What are Primary Care Networks?

Primary Care Networks (PCNs) involve general practices working together and with community, mental health, social care, pharmacy, hospital and voluntary services in their local areas.

PCNs build on the core of current primary care services and enable greater provision of proactive, personalised, coordinated and more integrated health and social care. Clinicians describe this as a change from reactively providing appointments to proactively care for the people and communities they serve. Where emerging PCNs are in place in parts of the country, there are clear benefits for patients and clinicians.

PCNs are based on GP registered lists, typically serving natural communities of around 30,000 to 50,000. They should be small enough to provide the personal care valued by both patients and GPs, but large enough to have impact and economies of scale through better collaboration between practices and others in the local health and social care system.

PCNs aim to alleviate workload and allow GPs and primary care practitioners to deliver a new model of care for their patients and communities. They help rebuild and reconnect the primary healthcare team across the area.

Primary care networks will eventually be required to deliver a set of seven national service specifications. Five will start by April 2020: structured medication reviews, enhanced health in care homes, anticipatory care (with community services), personalised care and supporting early cancer diagnosis. The remaining two will start by 2021: cardiovascular disease case-finding and locally agreed action to tackle inequalities.

To do this they will be expected to provide a wider range of primary care services to patients, involving a wider set of staff roles than might be feasible in individual practices, for example, first contact physiotherapy, extended access and social prescribing. Networks will receive specific funding for clinical pharmacists and social prescribing link workers in 2019/20, with funding for physiotherapists, physician associates and paramedics in subsequent years. 

Primary care networks will also be expected to think about the wider health of their population, taking a proactive approach to managing population health and, from 2020/21, assessing the needs of their local population to identify people who would benefit from targeted, proactive support. 

Watch a short animation that explains the concept of primary care networks (PCNs) and how this new way of working enables health and other services to work together to provide better access for patients.

NHS England has launched a new podcast as part of the ongoing work to share learning and support the development of primary care networks across the country. The podcast is hosted by Dr William Owen, Clinical Fellow at NHS England.

Episode 1: Supporting the development of primary care networks – This episode features an interview with Dr Charlotte Canniff the Clinical Chair of North West Surrey CCG and clinical lead for primary care transformation within the Surrey Heartlands ICS. In this episode, Dr Canniff talks about her passion for primary care networks and how she is supporting the development of networks in her own area, as part of the work across Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System.

Episode 2: Primary care networks and the role of practice managers – This episode features an interview with Hannah Smalley, Practice Manager and Managing Partner at Merchiston Surgery, part of Wyvern Health Partnership in Swindon. In this episode, Hannah talks about her role in the strategic development of Wyvern Health Partnership and the vital role of practice managers in developing primary care networks locally.

Episode 3: Primary care networks and the role of the Clinical Director – In this episode we talk to Dr Hannah Morgan, the Clinical Director of Hayling Island Emsworth primary care network, about how she is developing her PCN, her role as clinical director and some initial aims and objectives as the PCN partners begin to work together.

Episode 4: Pharmacy in primary care networks – A clinical director perspective – Clinical directors and pharmacists, Helen Kilminster and Graham Stretch, in conversation with Will Owen about the setting up of clinical pharmacy in PCNs. Helen and Graham give their advice and highlight some top tips to help PCNs learn from their experience and establish their pharmacy team.

Episode 5: Reducing health inequalities through primary care networks – Olivia Butterworth, Head of Public Participation at NHS England and NHS Improvement joins resident GP trainee Dr Will Owen to discuss health inequalities and the opportunities primary care networks offer to connect with community groups and better reflect all parts of the population they serve.