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The Role of Pharmacists in Primary Care Networks: An In-depth Look

By Maria Hickey on November 8th, 2023

For pharmacy owners and pharmacists across the UK, primary care networks (PCNs) represent an important shift in how community-based care is delivered.

As the NHS Long Term Plan aims to move more services out of hospitals into local settings, pharmacies have an opportunity to play a bigger role within these new primary care networks.

What Are Primary Care Networks?

Primary care networks are geographical networks that link groups of general practices together with community-based teams to jointly serve a defined patient population. The aim is to integrate a range of health and social care providers more closely to offer more personalised, coordinated care.

The NHS Long Term Plan set a goal for full coverage of PCNs across England by July 2019. Now, over 1,250 PCNs cover the entire nation, with each serving 30,000-50,000 patients. Networks receive financial incentives to meet specific service requirements laid out in the network agreement.

Why Have Primary Care Networks?

There are several key reasons primary care networks are being established:

Improve coordination

Improve coordination between general practices, community pharmacies, and other providers to surround patients with integrated care teams. This allows better information sharing and collaboration to provide continuous, personalised care tailored to each patient’s needs.

Expand community-based services

Expand community-based services to shift care delivery out of hospitals when appropriate. More services like minor injury clinics, chronic disease management, and preventative health can be offered locally to reduce unnecessary hospital utilisation.

Offer more holistic care

Offer more holistic care that addresses both health and social needs. Networks aim to think beyond just medical issues to factor in social determinants like housing, food access, isolation, etc. and connect patients to support.

Use collaborative teams

Use collaborative teams to enhance preventative care. With diverse expertise in one network, there is greater capacity to proactively manage conditions and focus on prevention.

Create incentives to meet population health goals and performance metrics. Networks allow coordination across a defined population to improve outcomes, manage costs, and meet NHS targets.

The Role of Pharmacists in PCNs

As accessible and trusted healthcare professionals embedded within local communities, pharmacists are well positioned to play an expanded role within many primary care networks.  Some of the key ways pharmacists can contribute to PCN objectives include:

  • Participating in multi-disciplinary teams to collaborate with GPs, nurses, social workers and other providers.
  • Offering consultations and screenings to proactively manage long-term conditions.
  • Providing enhanced medication reviews and optimisation for complex patients.
  • Helping address social determinants of health like access to medications.
  • Helping meet public health goals around immunisations, smoking cessation, etc.
  • Providing urgent care services for minor illnesses and injuries.
  • Reducing preventable hospital admissions through better community-based care.

To incentivise greater pharmacy involvement, the network contract includes service specifications with funding for pharmacists around areas like structured medication reviews, optimising medicine use, and minor ailments schemes.

Ensuring Pharmacy Representation

To maximise pharmacies’ contributions, it’s important for pharmacy owners and pharmacists to engage locally with both general practices and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) that oversee primary care networks.

This helps ensure network agreements, service specifications, and funding arrangements adequately involve pharmacies in planning and decision-making. Pharmacy representation is needed at both strategic and operational levels within PCN governance.

Pharmacies also need fair funding arrangements and contracts to take on expanded roles. And workforce training must ensure pharmacists gain skills needed to work effectively within multi-disciplinary teams under the PCN model.

An Evolving Opportunity

Primary care networks are very much a model still in development, giving pharmacies an opportunity to shape their ongoing role. By advocating for the unique expertise and accessibility community pharmacies offer, there is scope for greater involvement that benefits patients, the NHS, and pharmacies themselves.

Protect Your Pharmacy Business

Primary care networks represent an evolving model aiming to deliver more integrated, preventative, and patient-centric community health services. As highly trained healthcare professionals already embedded within local communities, pharmacists have an invaluable opportunity to play a bigger role in this vision.

However, to be successful, it remains essential to protect your pharmacy business. Brisco Business offers tailored pharmacist insurance policies to cover common risks like:

  • Professional and public liability
  • Business interruption
  • Damage to stock and premises
  • Theft
  • Employers’ liability

Our experienced team makes it easy to get comprehensive cover that fits your unique needs. Contact us today for an obligation-free quote on pharmacy insurance.

Maria Hickey

For more than 20 years, Maria has worked in the insurance sector and has extensive underwriting and customer service expertise. Maria is an experienced Senior Underwriter with a particular specialism for shop, office and surgery related insurance.

All articles by Maria Hickey

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