NHS chief pledges to embed primary care ‘at the heart’ of ICS development

A leading GP has been asked by NHS England to outline how PCNs will work in integrated care systems (ICSs) as health bosses look to accelerate the aims of the NHS long-term plan.

NHS integration (Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Senior responsible officer of Surrey Heartlands ICS Dr Clare Fuller has been tasked with identifying the ‘next steps’ in the short term for PCNs and how they will meet the health needs of patients when ICSs become statutory bodies next April.

Dr Fuller, a practising GP in Reigate, Surrey, will explore how services should develop and has been encouraged to use the successful COVID-19 vaccination as a 'springboard' for delivering care through partnerships. The review will be published next March.

The move to give primary care greater involvement in ICS development comes after GP leaders warned that the voice of the profession could be weakened with only one primary care representative guaranteed on each system board.

PCN next steps

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: ‘The time to lay the groundwork for statutory ICSs is now and it is vital that we ensure primary care is embedded at the heart of their development before they become statutory organisations in April as the proposed legislation sets out.

‘I have seen first-hand how integrated care means better patient care – whether it be in Reigate where the local vaccination clinic is offering blood pressure checks to people being jabbed or in Bradford where they are teaming up with local schools to provide children with mental health support.

‘I am delighted that Dr Fuller will be driving this work forward, the examples seen in her local area show how partnership working particularly between GP practices and wider partners can deliver better experiences for patients.’

The NHS long-term plan states ICSs will be central to redesigning care and improving population health, creating 'shared leadership and action'. PCNs, which bring together different professionals to coordinate better care, have been instructed to tackle health inequalities and prevent illness.

Health inequalities

Dr Fuller said: ‘I am delighted to have been asked to lead this work, and to use our experience locally to help systems across the country. As a GP, I know only too well the importance of supporting people in the widest sense.

‘Our PCNs are perfectly placed within communities to bring together the right partners to tackle these ‘wider determinants of health’. This is about working collectively to support our most vulnerable citizens and to reduce the inequalities in health we know exist for many communities.’

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall warned in September that the voice of GPs will be ‘diminished’ under government plans to reform the NHS, with ICSs taking on the responsibilities of CCGs next year under reforms to the Health and Care Bill.

He argued that guidance stating each ICS should have one primary care representative on its board would lead to the expertise of ‘a lot of experienced’ clinical leaders being lost at a crucial time for general practice.

Later this month GPs at this year’s England LMCs conference will debate the ‘disintegration of healthcare with the arrival of ICSs.

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