RCGP calls for longer consultation on controversial PCN plans

The RCGP has urged NHS England to 'take more time to properly consult with the profession' over draft specifications for the network DES that have left the future of primary care networks (PCNs) in doubt.

The rare intervention from the college on a contractual issue underscores the depth of concern in general practice over plans that one LMC warned this week would leave an average practice facing costs of more than £100,000 a year for remaining in a PCN.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall warned that overloading PCNs with work and responsibility at such an early stage in their development could cause the organisations to fail.

The specifications are currently out for consultation, in a process set to close on 15 January - and both NHS England and the BMA's GP committee have stressed that negotiation will continue after the consultation to decide their final shape.

But the draft plans have sparked a furious response, with leading GPs warning they will pull their practices out of PCNs unless there is significant change, at least one PCN clinical director stepping down in response to the proposals and a major LMC calling on doctors not to sign the DES for the coming financial year.

PCNs at risk

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: 'PCNs are an opportunity to do things differently and increase support to practices by facilitating collaboration and increased funding getting to the frontline, but serious consideration needs to be given to how PCNs are developed and how the services they can offer are implemented.

'This needs to be well-informed by those working in general practice, and the consultation period we have been given to feedback on the proposed specifications is far too short to be meaningful.

'PCNs are still in their infancy and should not be overloaded with work before they have had time to mature or they will fail. Networks must be given the time and space to recruit to the new roles, integrate new staff into established teams and ensure they are properly trained to work in primary care. Only then will PCNs be able to address excessive GP workload and ultimately improve the care that is being provided to patients.

'PCNs will only succeed if practices are given the scope to do this properly. We propose that NHS England take more time to properly consult with the profession and create service specifications that are less prescriptive, more locally relevant and realistic, particularly in areas with significant deprivation. This will also give PCNs the time they need to develop before being able to offer additional services, as well as trying to alleviate the current workload pressures they are facing.'

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