Primary Care Networks

Since the NHS was created in 1948, the population has grown, and people are living longer. Many people are living with long term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease or suffer with mental health issues and may need to access their local health services more often.

To meet these needs, GP practices are working together with community, mental health, social care, pharmacy, hospital, and voluntary services in their local areas in groups of practices known as Primary Care Networks (PCNs).

PCNs build on existing primary care services and enable greater provision of proactive, personalised, coordinated and more integrated health and social care, closer to home. Clinicians describe this as a change from reactively providing appointments to proactively caring for the people and communities they serve.

Each of the 1,250 PCNs across England are based on GP registered patient lists, typically serving communities of between 30,000 to 50,000 people (with some flexibility). They are small enough to provide the personal care valued by both patients and GPs, but large enough to have impact and economies of scale through better collaboration between GP practices and others in the local health and social care system.

PCNs are led by Clinical Directors who may be a GP, General Practice Nurse, Clinical Pharmacist, or another clinical professional working in general practice. Over 99% of general practices are part of a PCN, who sign up to the Network Contact DES which details their core requirements and entitlements. Find out more through a collection of case studies from across the country where PCNs are working to make a difference to staff and patients.

Watch a short animation that explains the concept of PCNs and how this new way of working enables healthcare providers and other services to work together to provide better access for patients.

A key part of the NHS long-term plan, primary care networks (PCNs) will bring general practices together to work at scale. Primary care networks (PCNs) form a key building block of the NHS long-term plan. Bringing general practices together to work at scale has been a policy priority for some years for a range of reasons, including:

  • To improve the ability of practices to recruit and retain staff
  • To manage financial and estates pressures
  • To provide a wider range of services to patients and to integrate with the wider health and care system more easily. 

While GP practices have been finding different ways of working together over many years – for example, in super-partnerships, federations, clusters and networks – the NHS long-term plan and the new five-year framework for the GP contract, published in January 2019, put a more formal structure around this way of working, all the while stopping short of creating new statutory bodies. As of the latest PCN sign-up in May 2020, all except a handful of GP practices in England have come together in around 1,250 geographical networks covering populations of approximately 30–50,000 patients. This size is consistent with the size of primary care homes, which exist in many places in the country, but is much smaller than most GP federations. For further information visit the Kings Fund website.