GPs back BMA to lead talks on future of primary care networks

GPs have voted for the BMA to continue to represent the profession in talks with NHS England over the future of the multi-billion pound primary care network (PCN) programme.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)

GPs across England were asked to vote on whether to give the BMA a 'mandate for the PCN directed enhanced service' in a ballot held over the past two weeks.

More than 80% of 4,534 GPs who voted backed the BMA role, voting 'yes' on the question: 'Prior to any further negotiations, extension or changes for 2021/22, do you give GPC England a mandate for the PCN directed enhanced service'. The figures suggest that around one in 10 GPs in England took part in the vote.

The vote was held after LMC leaders at a conference in November last year backed a motion declaring that the BMA's GP committee had 'never secured a robust democratic mandate for the PCN DES' and should ballot the profession before negotiating any extension or changes for 2021/22.

BMA mandate

BMA GPC England chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'We are glad that the profession has spoken so clearly, giving GPC England a clear mandate for the PCN directed enhanced service and telling us that we should continue negotiating this important contract on behalf of grassroots GPs throughout the country.

'With more than 99% of practices now being a member of a PCN, it is vital that GPs and their teams have a voice and a seat at the negotiating table – both locally and nationally - and the BMA is proud to represent GPs’ views as it has done since the contract was developed two years ago.

'Since their launch in 2019 PCNs have provided growing amount of additional funding and support to help practices to reduce their workload by working together with additional staff, and while significant challenges remain, as our recent survey of clinical directors showed there is cautious optimism among the profession around what groups can achieve together.

'GPC England will now go forward with this, emboldened by this renewed mandate, determined to achieve the best for general practice, family doctors and their patients. However, at this critical time the government needs to acknowledge the real challenges faced by the public and the profession and do more to support the flexible development of PCNs to provide the care our patients deserve in these challenging times and beyond.'

Primary care networks

Around 1,250 PCNs, initially intended to cover patient populations of between 30,000 and 50,000 - but in practice often significantly larger or smaller - are in place across England, bringing together groups of practices.

The networks, introduced as part of the five-year GP contract that began in 2019, are the vehicle for billions of pounds in funding for primary care over the coming years - with the additional roles reimbursement scheme funding a range of staff in primary care, payments for practices to participate and a number of service specifications attracting additional funding.

However, the development of PCNs has been widely contested, with some GPs fearing an increase in bureaucracy and workload.

Ahead of the ballot over the past two weeks, the BMA warned that if GPs voted against giving it a mandate to continue talks on the PCN DES, funding may be lost to primary care - with DES requirements and funding potentially transferred 'to non-GP providers' or 'moved elsewhere within the NHS'.

GPs have often called for better funding to go into the core GP contract rather than being pushed into PCNs. However, BMA leaders also warned ahead of the ballot: 'NHS England and government have consistently stated that PCN DES funding would not be made available for investment directly into global sum or other core elements of the practice contract.'

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