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What the NHS plan for improving access for patients means for Primary Care Networks

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

On 14th October, NHSE released “Our plan for improving access for patients and supporting general practice".

If you are a new PCN Network Manager wondering what the latest guidance means for your PCN network, here is my take.

From November to March, a new £250m Winter Access Fund has been designed to help patients with urgent care needs to get seen when they need to, on the same day, taking account of their preferences, instead of going to hospital.

The two main uses of the Fund will be:

  1. To drive improved access to urgent, same-day appointments in general practice, at PCN level or a combination of both.

  2. To increase the resilience of the NHS urgent care system during winter by expanding same-day urgent care capacity through other services in any primary and community settings.

The Bad news

All of it! Just kidding (but not really)

  • The scale of incentives is being increased significantly into general practice. However, money is not the answer.

  • The Government’s manifesto commits to expanding the number of other primary care professionals by 26,000, expanding general practice capacity and bringing a wider range of skills to the primary care team. However, more roles require more space and a solid infrastructure, and whilst some areas may not have a premises issue, many do.

  • More targets and measurements are being introduced.

  • It's more work.

  • All systems are to develop and submit a plan for this funding by Thursday 28th October 😐 .


(Perhaps, maybe, I’m hopeful)

  • Making use of the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) can help alleviate pressure on GP appointments by harnessing the skills and knowledge of community pharmacists to treat a range of minor illnesses. I have a meeting about this next week, and so far, things sound promising.

  • Funding can be used to expand extended hours capacity and to hire extra administrative staff, e.g. at PCN, federation level (where commissioners agree this is necessary). Could this also mean space? I suggest that if you need more people and can find them, grab them quickly. If we need more space, let’s think creatively.

  • NHS England will enable and drive full adoption of cloud-based telephony across all practices as rapidly as possible, to enhance your telephone infrastructure.

Other News

( I initially titled this section good news, but then I changed it.)

To support core general practice capacity and avoid disruption to existing service provision over the winter period, the planned transfer of current CCG-commissioned extended access services to PCNs will now be postponed until October 2022.

I know a lot of areas have been focussing on designing this service and waiting for more guidance. Whilst again this will be frustrating, one could argue it's one less thing to focus on right now.

On the other hand, this work isn't wasted because the thought processes you have been exploring in regards to your demand and capacity can be channelled into the increased access under this fund.

The good news is that the guidance in this latest document suggests we have a bit more freedom to design what would work for us. However, all systems are to develop and submit a plan for this funding by Thursday 28th October 😐.

Understanding the context you work within

I recently recorded an episode of The Business of Healthcare Podcast, where I gave some advice on how to better your understanding of the context you work within.

This latest document, along with; the negative press coverage, increasing patient demand and expectation, staff shortages and understandable low morale, will affect you as a PCN Manager. Your emails may go unanswered, phone calls not returned, and you may struggle to get hold of your Clinical Directors. People are tired, frustrated and working incredibly hard.

Understanding the context in which you are operating in is so important. When you can; show you understand, that you are all in this together and you are here to help, this is where you will experience the shift in engagement.

Key Documents and resources

The Role of the PCN Manager

As a PCN Manager, I believe our role is:

  • To familiarise ourselves with the national strategy, contracts, local plans, key relationships and existing partnerships.

  • To work closely with the PCN leadership team to ensure the network has a clear direction and shared purpose aligned with the national strategy.

  • To share your networks plans and approaches with neighbouring PCNs to start to create aligned ways of working.

  • To develop a greater understanding of your local ICS.

  • To keep focused on the task at hand.

Here you will find blogs on;

If you need more support, our PCN Accelerator Programme is the only training for PCN leads created by a PCN Manager. This training and mentorship programme will give you the fundamentals and know-how for you to deliver your role effectively and with confidence.

Check out the programme here.

Tara provides project and network management to Primary Care Networks, training and mentorship to the PCN Managers and Clinical Directors and has worked with 11 Training Hubs and 18 Primary Care Networks to date.

Tara has an MBA in Healthcare Leadership and Management, is published in the London Journal of Primary Care, is the author of over 200 blogs and also hosts the Business of Healthcare Podcast.

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