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PCNs tasked with monitoring cloud telephony data

by Beth Gault
27 June 2024

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PCNs are being tasked with monitoring and analysing data from cloud telephony, according to NHS England guidance.

In a guide on how to improve telephone journeys in general practice, published last month, NHS England said PCNs should be ‘proactively’ managing demand and capacity across the network.

It said: ‘PCNs can share resources and information and can create local networks of knowledge and peer support. This shared active learning is often a positive step towards developing a sustainable approach to improvement and change.’

It recommended that PCNs make sure the data from practices is measured in the same way and combined to give a PCN-wide picture, which can be used to monitor trends to support decision-making.

However, it also explained the benefits of network practices all using the same telephony systems purchased by the PCN.

These include surgeries being able to share training and learning; offer peer support; negotiate better deals when purchasing; and increase their resilience (since support can be given to other practices in case of an emergency).

PCNs ‘having common telephony equipment and common working arrangements and comparable data enables practices/primary care networks (PCNs) to work together more closely,’ the guidance added.

Dr Matt Prendergast, PCN North clinical director at University Health Service, Highfield, Southampton, said while combining data across a PCN would be ‘useful’, that it ‘assumes the PCN is working well together’.

His practice has just formed a single practice PCN, and says while his previous PCN worked well, they had different systems and demographics.

‘Using data was interesting but not critical. The government push is for working at scale but in many cases that is not welcomed by the practices and difficult,’ he said.

Digital transformation lead at Southampton North PCN, Michael Penston, said cloud telephony was a ‘must’ for practices to efficiently manage their incoming workloads.

However, he added he was ‘sceptical’ about the benefits of standardised phone systems across PCNs.

‘It seems far more sensible for each practice to design systems that work best for their particular population. Geographically, PCNs can cover vastly different demographics,’ he said. ‘Our PCN has a very large university-based practice, a small practice with residents of an affluent area, and other practices which have a mix of more working-age, older populations with a mix of areas of deprivation and affluence.

‘The freedom each practice has to tailor services to the population we serve is the most valuable tool we have in primary care.’

Dr Neil Paul, clinical director at SMASH PCN in Cheshire said that PCN level was an ‘ideal’ place to monitor cloud telephony data due to the time pressures of doing so.

He said: ‘Digital transformation leads can help – practice managers are busy and frankly being an expert on IT telephony isn’t top of their list. Headspace is an issue – learning lessons, sharing best practice – all of these come at scale – a PCN or GP federation is in an ideal place to work with its practices to help them.’

He added that practices need to see this as help and not ‘punishment or control’, which was a ‘difficult balance’.

Digital transformation lead at Wandsworth PCN in South West London, Daniel Gollop, added that having the ability to monitor data and trends across the network will be valuable in order to make sure each practice’s needs are catered to at PCN level.

However, he added that using data to support decisions ‘will only get you so far’.

‘If there is an unforeseen event for example staff sickness you may still lack the capacity, therefore it is also important to have appropriate contingency plans in place to support this.’

The NHS England guide on how to improve telephone journeys in general practice is one of four that have been published to help practices and PCNs make the move to the modern general practice model, as set out in the 2023’s recovery plan.

The other documents are how to improve care navigation in general practice; how to align capacity with demand in general practice and how to improve care related processes in general practice.

To have a proactive data-led approach, NHS England has said PCNs should:

  •  Proactively manage demand and capacity across PCN service in place. Make sure the data from practices is measuring in the same way. Combine the data to give a complete picture across the PCN.
  • Use the data to monitor trends, identify differences or similarities.
  • Use data to support your decisions about resources, capacity, services and to improve experience.

Source: NHS England


A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication, Pulse PCN