Leaders at the NHS Confederation’s PCN Network told GPonline that poor data on patient needs and tight recruitment deadlines for ARRS staff had left PCNs trying to ‘retrofit’ new starters into their teams - leading to retention issues further down the line.
PCN network chair and GP partner Dr Pramit Patel has argued that networks need better data to help them accurately identify the needs of patients and allow them to recruit the correct staff to improve health inequalities.
PCN Network director Ruth Rankine su ggested that rigid recruitment deadlines meant clinical directors were feeling pressured to recruit staff before working out how their roles would fit into wider primary care teams. She also said remote working was affecting PCNs' ability to build strong multidisciplinary teams.
Issues around PCN staff retention come as swathes of posts linked to the additional roles scheme remain vacant as networks underspent their 2020/21 ARRS budgets by tens of millions of pounds as a string of factors affected recruitment.
Dr Patel told GPonline that clinical directors needed access to better data about the health needs of local populations and current gaps in services, saying this would help networks to identify the staff they need to recruit.
‘You only know what you truly need by looking at what your data tells you, for example, where your gaps are in terms of your population needs and your services. We need to get our linked data sets from a population health management perspective, so that we know what we are dealing with,' he said.
‘Once we know where the inequalities are, and know where the unmet need is - we can address it by creating those services and then you can map your additional roles against it. But we’ve been retrofitting it from day one.’
The network’s ‘PCNs: Two Years On’ report published in August revealed that ‘inadequate data, analytics and business intelligence’ were ‘hindering progress in population health management’. It added this was affecting practices’ ability to ‘accommodate their workforce’.
PCN Network director Ruth Rankine said in many cases PCNs were recruiting into roles to secure ARRS funding without really understanding what workforce they need and how they will be used.
She said: ‘Funding for ARRS recruitment has driven many PCNs to recruit to meet the DES requirements and receive the funding and then they think about what they want to do and how they want to deliver services.
‘The timescales have meant that people haven’t really been able to plan their workforce effectively, so I think there’s been a lot of retrofitting. We know that’s bad for retention, and we’re picking that up already - people are not feeling part of a team, and they’re not quite sure how they fit in.’
Examples of recruitment issues with networks were laid bare in a survey by the National Association of Link Workers last July, when it found that 29% of social prescribing link workers were considering resigning in the next year. Over three quarters of those surveyed were based in general practice.
GPonline has previously reported that networks have struggled to spend their full allocation of recruitment funding, with some CCGs unable to spend as much as two thirds of their funding in 2020/21.
The BMA has warned that millions of pounds must not be lost to general practice - and has urged NHS England to provide practices with more flexibility to be able to recruit the staff they need to improve GP services.