Speaking to GPonline about his expectations for primary care networks (PCNs) in 2020, BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said he hoped to see ‘wholesale recruitment of staff right across the country’ as networks mature.
Under the Additional Roles Recruitment Scheme, PCNs receive funding to employ staff including social prescribing link workers, pharmacists and physiotherapists as part of NHS long-term plan proposals to bring in 20,000 new staff to support primary care by 2023/24.
Dr Vautrey said incoming healthcare staff would play a huge part in helping networks to achieve DES service specifications - draft details of which were published in December. He warned that it was important for PCNs to make full use of available funding for new staff - but admitted some would struggle to recruit.
‘I think that's going to be one of the biggest issues in the coming year for PCNs - getting on with recruitment,' the Leeds GP said.
'We know that it's challenging, we know that recruiting in some parts of the country is going to be easier than in others. But we hope that CCGs can work with their networks to provide recruitment support and maybe, where it is really difficult to recruit, support from other healthcare providers.
'We need to ensure that all patients and all practices benefit from that current resource, that has never been there before.’
Dr Vautrey warned that additional roles staff would be key to PCNs meeting requirements set out in draft outline service specifications for the network DES, particularly given that no additional funding will be attached to them.
‘The intention is that the expanded workforce coming in next year will enable PCNs to respond to some of the aspirations within the service specifications,' Dr Vautrey said. 'But we are very clear that PCNs can only deliver and work on areas if they have the staff to be able to do that, so they need to be able to recruit the staff to be able to respond on some of the goals and aspirations within the service specifications.’
GPs have set out concerns over PCN recruitment - with PCN leaders warning that networks could lose staff because of a shortage of funding to pay for adequate training and development.
LMCs have called for more flexibility around recruitment of additional roles staff, saying the rigid terms of the contract were stifling recruitment efforts. Meanwhile, network leaders have warned that salary bands for clinical pharmacists were 'unrealistic' and were making it difficult to attract staff, ultimately leading to them being unable to make use of recruitment funding.
PCNs will be measured against the DES service specifications, which set minimum requirements for networks in their first year and centre around medicines management, care homes and anticipatory care.
Dr Vautrey said it was ‘too early’ for GPs to see the benefits of PCNs and the extra staff they have begun to recruit, but praised the profession for establishing networks across England.
‘It's not going to change overnight, the pressures on general practice have been huge and prolonged and it's going to take many years of investment and workforce expansion to be able to address those issues.
‘But I would hope that as we get the workforce expanded and reconnected within the community, doctors will see the benefits of that. Not only GPs who are currently in the service, but also doctors who are thinking about general practice as a career.’