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PM view: My tips on how to kick-start your PCN

8 July 2019

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As of 1 July, primary care networks (PCNs) are now live across England. PCNs are groups of practices and other primary care professionals that cover between 30,000 and 50,000 patients.

GP practices have been kept abreast of PCN-related deadlines through multiple channels and most English GP practices are now part of a PCN.

According to NHS England, as of 27 June there were 1,259 networks. Those networks will have by now ticked all the boxes to start receiving national investment, but is there anything else they need to think about to kick-start their PCN right?

In the second article in a series of how to kick-start your PCN, Denise Smith, practice manager at Merepark Medical Centre in Alsager, Cheshire and practice manager lead of the SMASH (Sandbach, Middlewich, Alsager, Scholar Green, Haslington) PCN, shares her tips on what steps PCNs can take in their early days to ensure success.

1. Engage other healthcare professionals

We are looking to host a SMASH PCN launch to which we’ll invite opticians, pharmacists and dentists so that we can build the relationships and shared vision that will potentially help us solve any problem at a later date.

Communication is key in every direction. People don’t like change but if you involve them from the beginning, they will feel part of it. You will get different opinions; listen to them and try new things rather than just saying “we can’t do it”.

Make sure you also have a plan B ready for any crisis before it arises. It is key that you monitor things on a day-to-day basis.

2. Team up with your peers

I think it is really important for practice managers to go out and about and meet their peers. A good way of doing this is by attending the Management in Practice events and your local LMC training events.

One of the things we’ve decided to do in our PCN is implement a practice managers’ PCN meeting.

We have practice managers’ meetings on a local scale, but we felt it was important to have a PCN meeting in addition to these. We have organised meetings for both practice managers and advance nurse practitioners, as we feel that people in this role are usually quite isolated.

I had heard that one of the advance practitioners in our area didn’t know what a PCN was, so we felt that it was important that we arrange these meetings bi-monthly. In a recent meeting over lunchtime, the clinical director did a presentation on PCNs and the feedback was excellent, people were made aware of where we are heading and what our plans are. These events are a great opportunity to get everybody’s ideas and opinions.

3. Involve your patients

Make people part of the discussions, rather than just having them read about these changes on a leaflet.

I have shared the work we have done in our PCN with my practice’s patient participation group. The support that they gave me is fantastic; they fed back our work to the patients and the community in the area to make them aware of the changes the NHS is currently undergoing.

5. Be organised and communicate

As the PM lead, you need to be organised and have a substantial commitment to support the clinical director. You need to have a good working relationship and communicate with them on a regular basis.

However, you also need to communicate with everybody. When I receive an email, I send it to all practice managers and the GP leads in our network, to ask them for their thoughts. In that way I can get their comments, which I then feedback to our clinical director, Dr Neil Paul.

6. Remember the wonders of the world wide web

We are looking to implement a SMASH PCN website to allow any of the practice managers in our network to log on and see where we are up to. Ideally, our website will have a forum, which will benefit new practice managers in particular, helping them get quick access to key contacts in our area.

7. Use digital toolkits

We are also going to be the pilot practice for a ‘live chat’ service, provided by the company Refero. If successful, we could implement this service across all six remaining practices in our PCN.

We will initially just use the service to answer questions on our practice’s website but in the future, we would also like to introduce some Q&A sessions with our clinicians.

8. Accept support from your GP federation

Our GP federation, The South Cheshire and Vale Royal GP Alliance, together with Howbeck Healthcare – a company offering support to PCNs and GP federations – have supported us and given advice on different things that we can work on.