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PCNs have improved patient care, according to practice managers, but there’s less certainty over impact of PCN manager role

by Rima Evans
11 July 2024

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Half of practice managers have rated primary care networks (PCNs) as being successful in increasing patient access as well as improving their care.

However, a survey also shows they are fairly split about whether PCNs should continue at all, with 41% in favour and 33% saying they should be scrapped. And only a third think that the introduction of PCN managers has had a positive impact on their job.

The findings, published in a report produced by our sister title Pulse PCN, have provided insight into the views of both practice and PCN managers on the progress of networks, which were created five years ago.

A total of 231 practice managers and 21 PCN managers responded to questions that asked them to rate how successful PCNs have been in terms of improving patient outcomes and capacity but also about the evolving relationship between PCN and practice managers.

Practice managers seem most positive about PCNs improving patient access – the biggest group, 52%, rated this as being a successful outcome of their PCN’s work.

Meanwhile, 50% said they thought recruitment and retention of ARRS roles at their PCN was successful, 49% said improving care for patients and 48%, improving joint working.

They were least convinced PCNs has been successful in improving health inequalities, on bringing about digital transformation and freeing up GPs time (see graph below).

As one respondent pointed out, ‘How can PCNs be graded on freeing up GP time when activity has increased by 25% at least?’

Meanwhile, practice managers also seem uncertain about the impact of the PCN manager role. Only 35% said this new managerial job has had a positive impact on their own job, with 28% disagreeing and 34% remaining neutral (see also graph below).

A quarter (26%) admitted it that the introduction of PCN managers has made their job harder while just a slightly higher proportion, 33%, said that wasn’t the case.

On an optimistic note, 57% of practice manager respondents said PCNs have increased collaboration between the managers in their own network (compared with 20% who disagreed ). Though these findings weren’t replicated when it came to collaboration between practice managers outside their PCN – only 19% agreed PCNs had improved this, compared with 46% who indicated this wasn’t the case.

Robyn Clark, director of the Institute for General Practice Management and managing partner at Kingswood Medical Practice, Bristol, said: ‘I think what these figures demonstrate is less about the role of the PCN manager and more about PCNs as a whole. There are many PCNs in the country that work well together and that have done some really innovative and collaborative work, but there are also many PCNs that have been unable to achieve the same for a variety of reasons.

‘Likewise, the role of the PCN manager may have been well integrated with practices in areas where the PCN is working well, but perhaps less so in areas where this has not been the case.’

The full report The State of Primary Care: A PCN Evaluation includes analysis of more than 1,700 responses from PCN clinical directors, GPs, nurses, pharmacists and others. To read it in full see here.

The PCN manager perspective

Although there was a much smaller number of responses from PCN managers, the findings are noteworthy.

Key points are:

  • 80% said they were satisfied or very satisfied in their role.
  • 90% said they feel supported and valued by the clinical directors they work with . The same proportion agreed the support given has a direct effect on their ability to do the job well.
  • 70% feel supported and valued by other practice managers in the network. 
  • 60% feel supported and valued by practice staff and GPs in the network (although 10% said they didn’t). 
  • 75% agreed support from practice managers, practice staff and GPs in the PCN had a directly positive effect on the ability to their job well.
  • 90% believe their job has had a direct positive impact on the successful working and running of their PCN.
  • 65% think their role has had a positive effect on joint working and patient care within the PCN.
  • Only 40% said the role is  adequately reimbursed.
  • A quarter of PCN managers who responded are also practice managers. Among this group, 60% said they work part-time in order to be able to accommodate both roles . A further 20% said they were given protected  time by their practice that allowed them to fulfil their PCN manager duties. Another 20% said they were given no protected time.

Source: The State of Primary Care: A PCN Evaluation