In the run up to last month’s general election, the Conservatives promised to increase the number of appointments delivered in general practice each year by 50m by recruiting 6,000 more GPs and 6,000 other primary care staff, on top of the 20,000 staff expected to be brought in through primary care networks (PCNs).
But the NHS Confederation - which has launched a network to support PCNs - warned that these pledges might not materialise because GPs and other healthcare professionals running PCNs have not been given 'the time, support and funding' they need.
A poll of 157 clinical directors by the Confederation found 81% said they needed more time to grow links between practices and community providers to operate effectively and improve services.
Primary care networks
Half of respondents (49%) highlighted inadequate management support as a major barrier to the development of PCNs and 47% expressed concern about funding.
The warning comes as GP leaders voted to hold a special conference after rejecting contract changes for 2020/21, including the controversial service specifications for the network DES.
Ruth Rankine, development director for PCNs at the NHS Confederation said: ‘It has been only six months since PCNs have set up across England and despite the huge potential, there is overwhelming concern that they are far from prepared or resourced to deliver what is being expected of them.
‘In particular, clinical directors have told us that they need more time, more support from their local systems, and greater clarity around funding for what is being asked of them.'
She urged NHS England and Improvement to listen to PCN leaders, warning: ‘Without action, more clinical directors will walk away and the network model, and the ambition for primary care, faces collapse.’
Network bosses reported ‘significant variation’ in the maturity of PCNs as they were formed last July, with a ‘large swathe’ of clinical directors admitting they had no strong foundation of collaborative working to build on.
The NHS Confederation has called on clinical directors to be given more time to build relationships and effectively prepare for new service specifications. It also wants greater phasing of new service specifications and additional, protected money for management support.
The group has also responded to the public consultation on the draft ‘service specifications’ and has recently established a new network that aims to be a collective voice for clinical directors across the country and influence national policy and debate.
The RCGP this week called for a complete rethink on draft network DES plans, warning that in their current form there is a 'clear risk PCNs will fail' and that existing GP services will be undermined.
Meanwhile, half of clinical directors said their workload was unmanageable even before 'impossible' draft service specifications were published in December.