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Exclusive: NHS England in talks over bursaries for practice managers

by Carolyn Wickware
14 September 2016

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NHS England is “in discussions” with the Practice Management Network over implementing student bursaries for practice managers as part of the practice manager development programme.

Steve Williams, co-chair of the Practice Management Network, told Management in Practice that the bursaries would fund students in two programmes: an existing level 2 practice manager programme and a new level 5 “advanced practice manager programme”.

The new programme would provide practice managers with the skills to work on “a much bigger federated working model”, allowing graduates to apply for positions in GP federations, clinical commissioning groups and NHS England.

The programme, Williams said, is still being developed alongside the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC).

“I can confirm that the Practice Management Network put forward a proposal to NHS England, which included bursaries for specific educational training,” he said.

He added: “One of the issues NHS England has is that it doesn’t really know the skill workforce. What level are practice managers? What’s their background?

“What we’re aiming to do is to identify who these people are, what their skill level is and where appropriate, provide them with the necessary support structure in terms of professional qualification.”

Williams said the new programme will create a much needed career path for practice managers who sometimes “drift into practice management”.

The bursaries will benefit existing practice managers as well as people who are just leaving school and are looking to join a vocational career path.

While Williams said it is still unclear whether funding would come through NHS England or Health Education England, he said a half million pound investment would be enough to generate 1,000 qualified practice managers every year.

He said: “If you were to look at say a half million pound investment through Health Education England per annum, it’s a small proportion of their overall spending on education.”

Details of how the £6 million practice manager development programme will be spent have yet to be released by NHS England.

Dr Robert Varnham, head of general practice development at NHS England, told Management in Practice: “What we wanted to do separately is to do something just for practice managers and professionals and we’re working with the Practice Management Network right now to plan exactly what it looks like.”

He added that two priorities have come out of speaking with practice managers.

“Firstly, making sure everyone has access to some peer-to-peer networking because some practice managers in some parts of the country are pretty isolated and it’s hard to share examples of what’s working,” he said.

“Secondly providing more professional development and training opportunities – maybe bursaries for that – because some of our practices are doing well but are doing well with very little professional qualification support.”

However, he said the “precise blend of things” that the £6 million will be spent on will take another two to three months to confirm.