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In full: Hewitt recommendations for general practice contract reform

In full: Hewitt recommendations for general practice contract reform

Former health secretary Patricia Hewitt has reported from her review into integrated care systems, coming up with a number of suggestions for GP contract reform. Read them in full here.

Primary care contracts

I have heard repeatedly that national contracts present a significant barrier to those within the GP partnership model who want to work in innovative and transformational ways, requiring a great deal of time, goodwill, ingenuity and workarounds from practice partners and ICBs. ICBs also lack effective levers to support and secure the services in practices where practices are facing difficulties in providing a good quality of service in their area.

With ICBs taking on responsibility for NHS dentistry on 1 April, it is essential that the next stage of dental reforms, which is currently being developed and builds on the incremental reforms made last year, is implemented as soon as possible. Without this, ICBs are simply being handed the task of improving an unacceptable situation without sufficient tools to address this. The Government has already made some welcome changes, giving ICBs some flexibility to create additional services where they are most urgently needed and announcing the first set of contractual reforms in July 2022 to support fairer remuneration for dentists and increase patient access to care.

Furthermore, the contract held by GP contractors for ‘general medical services’, which is negotiated nationally between government and the BMA, provides far too little flexibility for ICSs to work with primary care to achieve consistent quality and the best possible outcomes for local people.

Contracts with national requirements can have unintended consequences when applied to particular circumstances. For instance, the national requirements and funding of Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) roles for community pharmacists within PCNs, has on occasion exacerbated the problem of a general shortage of pharmacists, with some now preferring to work within primary care rather than remain in community pharmacies or acute hospitals, compounding the problem of community pharmacy closures and delayed discharges. The new responsibilities for ICBs provide an important opportunity, at place or system level, to integrate the whole primary care offer for communities, making the best use of both the staffing resource available and the premises.

The Quality and Outcome Framework (QOF) points that were an important and useful innovation twenty years ago are now out of date and are seen by GPs as well as ICBs as an inflexible and bureaucratic framework. This needs to be updated with a more holistic approach that allows for variation. The new approach must also recognize that, in order to allow primary care to refocus resources on prevention, outcomes rather than just activity need to be measured.

As the GP contract is now entering its fifth year of a five-year agreement, and the Government will be shortly considering its intentions for the next iteration of the contract, radical reform is needed, and this is the right time to make it happen.

I therefore recommend NHS England and DHSC should, as soon as possible, convene a national partnership group to develop together a new framework for GP primary care contracts. This partnership group should include a diverse range of GP partnership leaders currently delivering excellence across a range of different regions and demographics, as well as ICB primary care leaders, local government and – crucially – a number of patient and public advocates. As part of this work, NHS England and DHSC should, of course, engage with key stakeholders, including the BMA and the RCGP.

Although of course the final decision on policy and funding rests with ministers, I would suggest that this framework should enable systems to find the right solutions to fit their circumstances, including building on the partnership model, rather than sweeping it away entirely.

In particular, I would suggest that the work of this group should consider:

  • The outcomes that we want from primary care as a whole. While it is not for this review to specify the outcomes, they should be developed closely with patients and the public over the coming months and include patient reported outcomes and experience as some of the measures for success.
  • The balance between national specifications and local flexibility and decision making – greater flexibility and appropriate local autonomy within a framework of national standards is needed to improve equity of access and care and to enable PCNs to take a greater role and responsibility in reducing health inequalities and population health management. ICBs, working with primary care partners at neighbourhood and ‘place’ level, need to join up the many different elements of primary care, including urgent care, making best use of clinical and other professional staff as well as premises and budgets, and taking account of the particular needs of their population and its geography and demography, to get the most convenient access and best outcomes for residents.
  • National standards or specifications should include clear expectations around digital and data, in line with the recommendations elsewhere.
  • How to incentivise and support primary care at scale. There are many different ways of achieving primary care at scale, within the context of integrated neighbourhood teams and wider place partnerships. These include: practices coming together as a single group; GP provider federations, owned collectively by partners and providing support to all member practices; free-standing practices working together within a PCN, where in future the contract (whether for core GMS services or enhanced services) might be held with the PCN rather than individual practices and partners; GPs working as part of a multidisciplinary primary care division within a wider NHS trust and so on. The new contract needs to allow for different models, in particular allowing tailoring to local circumstances in the patient facing offer, while ensuring we capture the benefits of an ‘at scale’ model behind the scenes. This work should consider how the system can make it simple for partners who wish to move in this direction to do so, while also encouraging and incentivising others to move in this way.
  • How best to support struggling practices to improve. Practices that are not delivering at a high enough standard need to be supported to improve and, where necessary, to be replaced so that residents in every community receive the support from primary care they need. This should include creating a centrally-held fund to buy out contracts or premises, or both, where that is essential to improve access, care and outcomes in a particularly disadvantaged community.

Recommendation: NHS England and DHSC should, as soon as possible, convene a national partnership group to develop together a new framework for GP primary care contracts.

Source: The Hewitt review



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Michael Mullineux 4 April, 2023 12:25 pm

Qualification for proselytising about how to improve General practice: 2 years as a mediocre Health Secretary almost 20 years ago

Nathaniel Dixon 4 April, 2023 5:18 pm

Mediocre is rather flattering – don’t forget the MTAS chaos.

John Graham Munro 5 April, 2023 10:57 am

She promised and failed to return to Ch. 4 News to answer some important questions———–20 yrs ago

Iain Chalmers 6 April, 2023 7:53 pm

Plain English Campaign clearly didn’t have chance to vet the above.

Utter gobbledyshite IMHO

Dave Haddock 8 April, 2023 5:49 pm

Scott lost the race to the South Pole, and died with his team. Amundsen succeeded and returned safely.
Amundsen’s thoughts on management;

We have established a little republic on board Gjøa… After my own experience, I decided as far as possible to use a system of freedom on board – let everybody have the feeling of being independent within his own sphere. In that way, there arises-amongst sensible people-a spontaneous and voluntary discipline, which is worth far more than compulsion. Every man thereby has the consciousness of being a human being; he is treated as a rational being, not as a machine… The will to do work is many times greater and thereby the work itself. We were all working towards a common goal and gladly shared all work.

Compare and contrast with the hostile, bullying micromanagement characteristic of the NHS.

Centreground Centreground 13 April, 2023 4:37 pm

Grassroots GPs and not career leaders or the RCGP who are not representative of most hard working GPs and who have led this path to NHS disaster should be on these new committee’s