Former GPC sessional GP subcommittee chair Dr Vicky Weeks told GPonline: 'At the moment I don't see sessionals being invited to be at the table as part of PCNs. The last thing I want to see is a repeat of what happened under practice-based commissioning - when sessionals did not have their feet under the table.'
Every GP practice in England is expected to join a PCN - a group of practices covering around 30,000-50,000 patients that will bring in new staff to support primary care and link up with other local health and care services - under plans set out in the five-year GP contract agreement published earlier this year.
Practices have been told to complete and return registration forms by 15 May 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 annually.
But Dr Weeks said that although there were 'one or two' sessional GPs taking on clinical director roles within emerging PCNs, in general she did not see 'LMCs and federations and contractors within those inviting sessionals to be part of this'.
She warned that although the network DES that underpins the formation of PCNs is a part of the five-year GMS contract deal, it was more than just a contract that affected practices.
'It is more than that. It is part of a fundamental system change, which requires all GPs to work together to provide those changes - particularly the move into integrated care systems in future. Sessionals have to be involved.'
Dr Weeks pointed out that in London around two thirds of GPs were sessional - and the figure nationally could be similar. NHS Digital data show that partners now make up less than half of the total GP workforce - and official figures are thought not to include more than 10,000 locums GPs who work in the NHS.
Dr Weeks pointed out that many locum and salaried doctors were former partners who may have a wealth of experience to call on - and because they have more flexibility over how they work than partners, they may be more willing and able to take on lead roles in PCNs.
'One thing forgotten by our contractor colleagues is that when you look at the sessional workforce - in the locum group 50% will be new GPs in their first five years, but half are also people like ex-contractors, who have come out of partnership and are working as locums.
'When we talk about the development of PCNs, to ignore locums - there is a vast wealth of expertise and experience available to support the networks, with experience of partnership and working in general practice. We ignore that at our peril.'