GPs have six weeks to register networks under new DES specification

GP practices have just six weeks to sign up to a primary care network under guidelines set out in the network contract directed enhanced service (DES).

Countdown to May deadline (Photo: Isabel Pavia/Getty Images)
Countdown to May deadline (Photo: Isabel Pavia/Getty Images)

Practices have been asked to ‘complete and return’ their primary care network (PCN) registration by 15 May 2019 to sign up to the network contract DES.

More than £1.8bn will be available to GPs to support the formation of primary care networks over the course of the five-year GMS contract deal agreed earlier this year - with standard PCNs in line for basic funding worth between £135,000 and £180,000.

Practices across England have just over six weeks to identify a list of ‘proposed member GP practices’ with whom they plan to form a network, as well as nominate a ‘single practice or provider’ to receive funding on behalf of the whole PCN.

Forming PCNs

Guidance published by NHS England makes clear that PCNs will be led by groups of GP practices, but 'will be expected to have a wide-reaching membership' - including providers 'such as community pharmacy, optometrists, dental providers, social care providers, voluntary sector organisations, community services providers or local government'.

Practices that join a network will be barred from closing for half a day on a weekly basis - in line with rules that have applied to date under the extended hours DES.

Commissioners will be expected as part of the application process to ‘confirm that registration requirements have been met, including discussing and agreeing the network areas across the CCG’, documents published by NHS England make clear.

The NHS long-term plan, published in January, revealed that GP practices will be expected to sign ‘network contracts’ that will pool some funding and link them with other practices and community services across patient populations of between 30,000 and 50,000.

Full coverage

CCGs are also expected to ensure that ‘all patients in every GP practice are covered by a PCN and that there is 100% geographical coverage’ by 31 May 2019.

Every practice within a proposed PCN will have one month from that date to sign the network agreement, completing the registration process by 30 June 2019.

The DES specification makes clear that a GP practice could sign up to the network contract DES after 30 June, but any changes to the make-up of a PCN will ‘require discussion with and approval from the commissioner’.

Key points from the DES specification include:

  • No PCN member practice will be allowed to close for a half day on a weekly basis ‘unless a GP practice has prior written approval from the commissioner’, as was the case under the extended hours DES. This is to ensure that the ‘reasonable needs of patients’ can be met during core hours ‘from their own practice or from any subcontractor’.
  • GP practices must ensure they have in place ‘appropriate data sharing arrangements’ so that a GP from any practice can refer, order tests, prescribe electronically and maintain a contemporaneous record for every patient. A template for data sharing arrangements is expected to be published in due course.
  • According to a new primary care network FAQ document published alongside the DES, PCNs will include providers from across the local system, including ‘community pharmacy, optometrists, dental providers, social care providers, voluntary sector organisations, community services providers or local government’ as well as GPs.
  • As well as identifying a single practice ‘that will receive funding on behalf of the PCN’, practices must also name an ‘accountable Clinical Director’ of the PCN by 15 May.

NHS England confirmed that core PCN funding of £1.50 per registered patient will commence from 1 July and ‘should be backdated’ to 1 April 2019.

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