Around 7,000 practices across England have come together to form more than 1,200 primary care networks. Photo: iStock

NHS England says the launch of the primary care networks (PCN) today means that patients will get longer appointments with their family doctors.

Around 7,000 practices across England – which is more than 99% – have come together to form more than 1,200 PCNs to deliver a wide range of specialist care services.

Multi-disciplinary teams, which include pharmacists, physiotherapists, paramedics, physician associates and social prescribing support workers recruited by GPs, would free up family doctors to focus on the sickest patients.

For the purposes of the network contract, which starts today (July 1), a PCN is defined as GP practice(s) serving an identified network area with a minimum population of 30,000 people.

“As the PCNs get up and running in the coming weeks and months, patients will begin to see the benefits, freeing up GPs to focus on the sickest,” said Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England and Improvement.

According to an NHS briefing, pharmacy teams will need to engage with PCNs in a coherent way to discuss how they can work together. For community pharmacy this means working through their local pharmaceutical committee (LPC) which would work with the local medical committee (LMC) to enable and facilitate community pharmacies to develop and negotiate a coherent offer.

Community pharmacies will want, before engaging with PCNs, to have strengthened the collaboration between themselves; this will ensure the most productive discussions, focused around how all the providers in a PCN will contribute to improving patient care.

“With recurrent funding, this should support the recruitment of over 20,000 additional people to work directly in practices as part of our healthcare teams,” said Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair.

“It means a pharmacist in every practice, not only reducing GP workload but also improving the quality of care.”

According to the latest figures, there is an increase of 300 more family doctors in the previous quarter, and the number of young doctors choosing to train as GPs also reached a new high.

There are also thousands more pharmacists, nurses and other healthcare professionals working in general practice than there were just a few years ago.

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