• Core network agreement expected to be published tomorrow
  • Chair of BMA’s GPs committee says it has been designed to be fluid
  • Whole country expected to be covered by primary care networks by 1 July

The initial core agreement between GPs that will underpin new primary care networks is likely to be fairly undeveloped to allow for future flexibility, the chair of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee has suggested.

Richard Vautrey told HSJ he expects the network agreement, which is expected to be published tomorrow, will continue to develop over the next five years.

“You’re getting those building blocks in place, having clarity about what’s going to be required, building on the existing contractual documents that are already out,” Dr Vautrey said.

By 1 July, England is expected to be covered by primary care networks. The network agreement – based on a pro forma document to be issued by NHS England and the BMA – will define how GP practices work together and with other network partners, such as community services, and will act as a standardised document for individual networks to base their own arrangements on.

The network contract specifications are also due to be published shortly, which will set out what services the networks must provide to get the financial entitlements of network membership.

These key documents, as well as additional guidance compiled by the BMA and NHS England, will include “exactly what practical things practices need to do as they develop their primary care network and prepare for the services those networks are going to be delivering in the next year or two”.

Once the network agreement has been released, GPs will then have a little over six weeks to get every practice in their networks signed up to their arrangements, based on the standardised document, before submitting it to clinical commissioning groups by 15 May.

“It might be fairly rudimentary in the initial states when they’re making initial submissions in a few weeks’ time,” Dr Vautrey explained. “It will naturally be something that develops as the scale and scope of the primary care network develops over the coming months.”

It will also contain a data-sharing agreement to govern the transfer of patient data within the network, as well as non-clinical data that will also be shared with CCGs “to support network analysis or assessment of compliance”.

“The key focus is to have in place arrangements for extended hours services from 1 July onwards and being prepared to employ a pharmacist and social prescriber within their primary care network,” said Dr Vautrey.

Most of the first year’s work will be “about preparing for the years to come,” he added, including preparing to hire more staff.

After the first year, networks will get access to funding to pay for 70 per cent of the salaries of new physician associates, physiotherapists and community paramedics.

The new staff will be employed by the network itself and will work across the member practices.

However, funding is only guaranteed up until 2024, law firm Capsticks warned this week. It said, after this point, “it is likely that PCNs will bear the full cost of the additional staff themselves”.

It suggested networks consider whether the new staff can be employed on a fixed term basis, for the duration funding is available, and decide “how any redundancy costs that arise when the funding ceases will be apportioned between members of the PCN”.