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ICBs to establish primary care demand and capacity test sites

ICBs to establish primary care demand and capacity test sites
By Victoria Vaughan
12 June 2024

Seven ICBs will establish around 15 PCN test sites with the aim of understanding the gap between demand and capacity in primary care as part of scheme announced in May.

At today’s NHS Confederation Expo in Manchester, NHS England’s national director of primary care, Dr Amanda Doyle, said that the sites in Humber and North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset, North Central London, Lincolnshire, and Suffolk and North East Essex were ‘not pilots’ that would report back in two years, but test sites to look at hypotheses to understand the gap between demand and capacity.

Dr Doyle said: ‘We know there is a gap between the ask coming in the door and what general practice is able to deliver. What we don’t know is the size of it. We know how many people are seen every day, its almost one and a half million people a day… but what we don’t know is how many people would like to be seen.’

She went on to say that NHS England also doesn’t know how practices deal with the demand, how many staff they have, how much they pay them or what they do, or what configuration of staff and operating practices make meeting the demand most deliverable.

‘What we want to test is, if general practice works at sufficient scale, and we’re not saying what that is… if NHS England stops trying to micromanage everything general practice does, if we try to meet what we think is the core capacity gap – and that’s financial as well as everything else – if we optimise everything…particularly [the] use of digital tools…then is general practice able to sustainably deliver the on-the-day demand, high quality long-term condition management, the stuff we need to be doing around improving population health management, and proactive care for the people with the most complex needs. Is that all doable and sustainable and what would it take to do that?’ she said.

The work is being chaired by Suffolk and North East Essex ICB CEO, Ed Garratt who said that the test sites were a ‘route’ to looking at how to optimise the opportunity of digital access.

He said: ‘We’re going to get a really good range of variety of PCNs…and then importantly, once we’ve understood the capacity gap – What are the innovations? What’s the best practice? What’s the potential investment that we need to close that gap and build a really strong case for the future?’ he said, adding that it’s ‘quite different’ that this is ICB led and that PCN clinical leaders will be driving the work.

‘The key thing is we will have a cadre of clinical leaders in our PCNs driving this, working together, collaborating, evaluating and learning together. We are approaching this in a granular operational way, we’ve done the strategy, now let’s really understand it at a more operational level, really understand the capacity gap, how we close it, and then create that benefit for all general practice across England.’

In May NHS England sent a letter to ICBs about these pilots stating that they would test new ways of using ‘more flexible staffing models’, data and process automation within general practice to ‘further deliver’ on 2022 Fuller Stocktake report.

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