Primary care services provide the first point of contact in the healthcare system, acting as the ‘front door’ of the NHS. Primary care includes general practice, community pharmacy, dentistry, and optometry (eye health) services.
Primary care professionals, such as GPs, practice nurses or pharmacists, help take care of the basics of care, focusing on preventing illness, making diagnoses and treating conditions that don’t need hospital care.
The aim of primary care is to provide an easy, accessible route to care. Primary care professionals help treat common minor illness and long term conditions. They also help to prevent future ill-health through advice, immunisation and screening programmes. Family planning and sexual health services are also part of primary care, and don’t need a GP referral.
In the NHS, the main source of primary health care is general practice. GPs deal with a broad range of physical, mental and emotional problems rather than specialising in a particular disease. As well as finding out what’s causing a person’s symptoms, GPs also act on behalf of the patient as an advocate, making sure that people who are living with health problems get all the care they need. Depending on the health problem, patients may be referred by the GP to hospital or to a specialist.
As we have built our devolved health and social care system in Greater Manchester, the critical role of primary care has been emphasised throughout. This has been further underlined as the 10 areas of Greater Manchester have developed their locality plans. Primary Care is now increasingly viewed as a core component of an integrated, community based, care system rather than a separate stand-alone entity.
The NHS Long Term Plan is transforming primary care services by giving people more timely access to more services close to where they live by funding bigger, more widely skilled teams so people will can more easily connect with the right person for their needs. Read more about what the NHS Long Term Plan says about primary care in more detail.
Since 1 July 2019 most GP practices in England have come together in around 1,300 geographical Primary Care Networks (PCNs) covering populations of approximately 30-50,000 patients. PCNs aim to alleviate workload and allow GPs and primary care practitioners to deliver a new model of care for their patients and communities.
PCNs involve general practices working together and with community, mental health, social care, pharmacy, hospital and voluntary services in their local areas. PCNs are 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.
The video below explains how primary care has changed since the NHS was established.