Primary Care Networks

The introduction of the Primary Care Network (PCN) could be the most significant reform to the delivery of general practice medical services in a generation. While it is not compulsory for general practice partnerships to join a PCN, changes in funding and the direction of NHS policy will encourage most partnerships to participate.

The objects of the policy include better integration of general practice with other community health services, the recruitment of more and different types of health staff to take pressure off GP doctors and nurses’ workloads and the improvement of population health by greater collaboration between health professionals and better use of shared data. The newly created post of “clinical director” is likely to have a very important role in achieving these objectives.

The speed of the proposed introduction of PCNs has allowed little time for practices to consider the best way to establish a PCN rather than what is the quickest or easiest. There are different structures available for participants to use depending on local circumstances, and each structure will need consideration from the perspectives of decision making, employee and service liability, funding and finance, pension entitlement for PCN staff and VAT.

The NHS has provided a standard template for the Network Agreement, the legal basis for the PCN, although the schedules to that Network Agreement may be completed differently depending on the circumstances of each PCN and the wishes and the intentions of the participants. At this early stage, it may be unclear what services will be carried out by whom in the PCN which creates difficulty in agreeing how the risk in the event that fault is found in such services, will be shared among PCN members. This is important, particularly as will often be the case, if the PCN itself is not a separate legal entity with limited liability.

The NHS has promised to issue a standard template for a data sharing agreement for use between members of the PCN, but this has not yet been produced. The PCN will need to consider what personal data will be shared between members, security arrangements, policies for dealing with data breaches, processes for anonymizing data, whether consent is required for the data to be shared, and whether privacy policies need to be updated.

In establishing a PCN you are likely to require an accountant’s advice in relation to the VAT aspects.

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Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.