General Practitioners (GPs) and Primary Care Networks (PCNs) are among the most essential—yet, unfortunately, overworked and under-supported—members of the NHS, delivering primary care services and coordinating patient care with other healthcare providers. As such, PCNs are subject to the Direct Enhanced Service (DES) contract with the NHS and therefore required to meet national targets as set out in the Impact and Investment Fund (IIF). These NHS targets and objectives are set at a national level and then devolved down to the local population. However, these targets are not always well defined and GPs and PCNs are provided very little support in their efforts to meet them.
With the new GP contract introduced in 2021, following Covid19, IIF targets have been reduced from the 36 indicators introduced in 2019 to just five for the current year, focusing on national priorities such as flu vaccinations, learning disabilities, health checks, early cancer diagnosis and the two-week-access indicator. This change has a significant impact on PCNs as each must now re-focus efforts to meet the new indicators, reassessing staffing and practice processes to ensure they are aligned with the new targets. So where to begin?
First, it’s important to get very clear about what you want to achieve from your contract. Rather than focusing on NHS targets or financial outcomes, identify the priorities of your practice based on the quality of care. While financial outcomes may sometimes be presented as the most important factor, it’s important to remember that quality of care should always come first and will ultimately lead to success in meeting necessary targets.
To identify areas in need of improvement, GPs and PCNs can look at the previous year’s NHS targets to determine where they did, or did not, meet requirements. Next, it is essential to identify and prioritize targets that directly impact patient care. While there are targets that can help reduce CO2 emissions or save the NHS money, if they do not improve patient care, they should not be the top priority. Don’t chase the money!
To set realistic timelines and expectations, PCNs should consider several factors. Firstly, analyse current staffing and resources to determine if they are right-sized to meet the new targets. If not, consider how long it will take to scale up or down or acquire necessary resources and adjust processes. Secondly, PCNs should review their performance history to determine how long it took to meet previous targets. PCNs must also consider the impact of external factors that could affect their ability to meet targets, such as the availability of vaccines or staff absence due to illness. It may be helpful to create contingency plans to address these potential obstacles and adjust timelines accordingly.
Finally, PCNs should not be afraid to share information and consult with other healthcare providers. In this way, we can all be proactive and help to support each other through these changes. Remember, we can’t change the future overnight. Sometimes it takes years to see the benefits of things like IFF because there is still so much to be done around practice process, practice engagement and patient education. Slow and steady wins the race.
Here at Xytal, we understand the challenges GPs and PCNs face in responding to these changes and we’re here to offer our support. In helping GPs and PCNs focus on the most critical health needs of their local populations, share resources, work more effectively together, and learn to better leverage technology, we can help PCNs improve the health outcomes of their communities while also meeting the evolving needs of the healthcare system. If you want help with supporting your PCN, we’re here to assist you. Find out about some of the work we do to support PCN’s by visiting our PCN DES Support page, and get in contact with us via firstname.lastname@example.org.