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How PCNs can use up the ARRS budget– last minute

22 February 2024

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Former practice manager and primary care consultant Daniel Vincent encourages PCNs to ensure they secure every bit of unclaimed ARRS funding

As the 2023/24 financial year draws to a close, primary care networks (PCNs) face a pivotal deadline – the commitment of Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) funds by the 31 March.

This deadline carries significant weight. Any unallocated ARRS funds by this date will be lost this year, underscoring the need for PCNs to act promptly and strategically to secure resources that will bolster primary care.

As PCN NHS England guidance sets out, networks have to bid for any as yet unclaimed ARRS funding. Although underspend schemes seem to be fewer in prevalence this year, it’s still worth asking your commissioner – your ICB – about it.

Here are some points to consider.

Understand the significance of the 31 March deadline

This date isn’t just a procedural cut-off, it’s a definitive chance for PCNs to utilise funding for additional healthcare roles. A total of £1.4bn was budgeted for ARRS this year.

The good news is that, as part of its funding offer for general practice, the Government has signalled it will increase the overall ARRS allocation for 2024/25 (albeit in a ‘very modest way, it said).

However, £64 million of underspend was returned to the treasury in 2022/23, funds that are desperately required in primary care. So, networks should prioritise using up all the money available – and not consider it too late to take action.

Consider the impact of ARRS on enhancing primary care

What are the advantages of maximising ARRS posts?

First, it can broaden workforce capacity. The ARRS money is earmarked for diversifying and augmenting the primary care workforce. Missing this deadline means forgoing the opportunity to hire additional roles like clinical pharmacists, physiotherapists, and other specialists who can significantly alleviate the pressure on GPs and enhance patient care.

The additional roles funded by the ARRS are also critical for improving patient outcomes and access to healthcare. These roles enable more comprehensive, timely, and personalised care, tackling both medical and social determinants of health.

Finally, these funds can allow PCNs to develop novel services and strenghten preventive care, which are essential for addressing current health challenges and averting future health crises.

Be strategic about allocation of funds and plan swiftly

Given the fast-approaching deadline, astute planning and proactive allocation of ARRS funds are paramount.

Guidance sets out that if multiple bids for unclaimed funding are received by an ICB, they will be assessed by certain criteria, and preference given to the bid that meets the most important requirements.

Top of the list of that criteria (and therefore the most critical) is that a PCN has processes in place ready to recruit or engage the roles it wants. It should also be able to show it has the ‘resources and capability to undertake further recruitment’.

With this in mind, PCNs will need to carry out:

Immediate needs assessment and decision-making. PCNs must swiftly evaluate their local healthcare needs and decide on the roles that will best meet these needs within the limited timeframe. Boots on the ground are what matter here. You can pivot the focus of the teams work once in post.

Efficient recruitment and role deployment. The urgency necessitates PCNs to expedite recruitment processes and quickly integrate new roles into healthcare teams to ensure immediate benefit from the investment. Know what you want and publish that you are looking to fill these roles and share via social networks. Leverage these networks to find a creative solution to your PCNs needs.

Also with recruitment challenges as they are, consider appointing to the ARRS roles through a remote service provider.

Solutions for challenges and overcoming barriers

PCNs might face recruitment difficulties and administrative complexities in meeting this deadline. However, these can be surmounted through:

Adopting agile recruitment strategies. Implementing dynamic recruitment strategies to promptly fill roles is crucial. Although you might have one particular role or delivery model in mind be open to offers of support that result from sharing your need.

Working with established providers. Make use of their networks to help you appoint quickly. Some examples of providers include Menlo Park for paramedic practitioners and advanced nurse practitioners, Pure Physio MSK for first contact pyhsiotherapists, and The Pharmacist Network for in-person pharmacists and techs.

Stakeholder Engagement and Community Collaboration. Engaging with healthcare partners, local authorities, and community groups can provide valuable insights and support in meeting the deadline.

Daniel Vincent, is former practice manager and co-founder of Primary Care Workflow Solutions, which offers remote ARRS delivery