Responding to a vote at the British Medical Association's (BMA) Conference in Brighton encouraging GPs to withdraw from the Primary Care Network (PCN) contract, Matthew Taylor chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:
“Primary care leaders are clear that withdrawing GP practices from PCNs would be counterproductive for both patients and primary care.
“Our members appreciate the frustrations of the GPs who have voted for this action; however, they know that walking away from the contract will only exacerbate their workforce challenges and potentially leave both them and their patients worse off.
“The NHS is seeing more patients accessing its services while contending with insufficient estates and a crippling workforce crisis, and so, the potential benefits of ‘at scale’ primary care cannot be underestimated.
“This will facilitate more personalised healthcare services closer to where people live, support innovation and collaboration and make the best use of finite and stretched public resources.
“Due to the significant disruption caused by the pandemic, it is simply too early to write-off PCNs as their true potential is yet to be seen. PCNs and neighbourhood teams offer the only tangible mechanism to deliver comprehensive healthcare for patients in their local communities, bolstered by new additional roles, such as social prescribers, mental health practitioners and community pharmacists. We have barely scratched the surface on what they will be able to deliver, including around long-term condition management, mental wellbeing, and supporting core general practice.
“The NHS would not have delivered such a broad vaccination programme at the scale and pace seen had it not been for PCNs and other at-scale providers, including GP federations.
“The current PCN contract isn’t perfect, as we have highlighted to NHS England and the Government over the last three years. The contract needs to give PCNs and their partners the freedom and autonomy to work out what’s right for their local communities and staff. This will take time, but our members continue to see first-hand the gains this way of working brings and they are not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
“Primary care leaders are encouraged that all 42 integrated care systems have signed up to Dr Claire Fuller’s Stocktake, which recognises the integral role that primary care will need to have in collaborating across services to improve patient outcomes. If GP practices walk away from the PCN Contract, this vital voice of primary care at a system level is at risk.”