Five-year deal to expand GP services draws on pioneering work in Tower Hamlets

GP practices across England are to receive an extra £1.8billion to help them work more closely in future – under an approach successfully pioneered in Tower Hamlets.

A new national five-year contract for general practice announced by NHS England will see primary care networks established across the whole country by July this year, with local services expanded and 20,000 extra staff recruited to support GPs.

The new model draws on ground-breaking work in Tower Hamlets, where the borough’s 36 GP practices have been working together in this way for the past decade.   

This work began in 2009 when the borough’s primary care trust – now NHS Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) – drew up plans to invest in local GP services.

To support this, all GP practices were grouped geographically into eight managed networks and encouraged to improve the care they provided for diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease, and childhood immunisations.

By working together in their networks, with funding and clinical leadership from the CCG, practices have been enabled to support each other, share learning, and drive borough-wide quality improvements which have led to major benefits in patient care.

This has led to Tower Hamlets earning national recognition for its primary care service, with three practices currently rated ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission.

Sir Sam Everington, a local GP and Chair of Tower Hamlets CCG, said;

“We’re very proud of the work we’ve done to improve GP services in Tower Hamlets and our primary care networks have been a crucial part of that – they’ve enabled practices to support each other and share learning in a way that’s benefited our patients across the borough.

“It’s extremely gratifying to see that the success of our networks here in Tower Hamlets has now been recognised by NHS England. The new national contract for general practice clearly acknowledges the vital role that primary care networks can play in driving improvements and achieving the ambitions set out in the NHS Long Term Plan (LTP).”

In announcing the new contract – the biggest reform to GP services in 15 years – NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said it was the first major pillar in implementing the LTP, which sets out future direction for the NHS for next 10 years and beyond.

A spokesperson for NHS England (London) said:

“Primary care networks are key to the future delivery of integrated patient care within the LTP and the new GP contract, and they give us a fantastic opportunity to build on the great work that’s already happening in primary care across London.”

The LTP outlines how primary care networks will join up the delivery of urgent care in the community – backed by a new £300million fund by 2023 that will enable them to make faster progress. It means GP practices will benefit from the impact their work has in reducing avoidable A&E attendances, admissions and delayed discharge, and from reducing avoidable outpatient visits and improvements in prescribing through medication reviews.

Under the new contract, primary care networks will be established nationwide by July 2019, backed by £1.8billion of funding by 2023. An extra 20,000 staff – pharmacists, physios, paramedics, physician associates and social prescribing support workers – will be recruited to support the new networks. This will free up GPs to spend more time with patients who need them most, while ensuring people have access to a wide range of services at their local practice.