Since the NHS was created in 1948, the population has grown, and people are living longer. Many people are living with long term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease or suffer with mental health issues and may need to access their local health services more often.
To meet these needs, practices have begun working together and with community, mental health, social care, pharmacy, hospital and voluntary services in their local areas in primary care networks.
Primary care networks (PCNs) build on the core of current primary care services and enable greater provision of proactive, personalised, coordinated and more integrated health and social care. Clinicians describe this as a change from reactively providing appointments to proactively care for the people and communities they serve. Where emerging PCNs are in place in parts of the country, there are clear benefits for patients and clinicians.
Primary care networks are based on GP registered lists, typically serving natural communities of around 30,000 to 50,000. They should be small enough to provide the personal care valued by both patients and GPs, but large enough to have impact and economies of scale through better collaboration between practices and others in the local health and social care system.
PCNs form a key building block of the NHS long-term plan. Bringing general practices together to work at scale has been a policy priority for some years for a range of reasons, including improving the ability of practices to recruit and retain staff; to manage financial and estates pressures; to provide a wider range of services to patients and to more easily integrate with the wider health and care system. In addition, PCN funding provides the opportunity to recruit a more diverse skill mix into general practice, through recruitment of roles such as first contact physiotherapists, social prescribers and physician assistants.