The aim of this study is to understand the processes by which primary care services are commissioned and contracted for at neighbourhood level, and to explore the impact and outcomes of those processes. We will look specifically at the new system and the operation and outcomes of network collaborative working.
The Long Term Plan, new GP contract, and NHS Operational Planning and Contracting Guidance 2019/20 set out a direction of travel for local service commissioning and provision which suggests primary care services will be increasingly delivered by collaborating networks of practices operating at a ‘neighbourhood’ level, usually defined as populations of 30-50,000. Whilst GP practices have collaborated together for a variety of purposes for many years, the new contract proposals envisage a closer working relationship including: shared employment of staff; network-level contracts, payments and incentives; and collaboration over back-office functions. It is argued that these developments will support the integration of services between primary, community, secondary and social care, and ensure the future sustainability of primary care services whilst improving the quality of services. The timetable for these changes is short, with practices required to organise themselves into networks by June 2019.
These changes a centre-piece of the NHS Long Term Plan, the recent changes to the GMS contract and the recently published NHS Planning Guidance. The way in which networks develop is therefore of vital importance if the ambitions of the Long Term Plan are to be realised. Understanding in more depth the objectives of the policy and factors affecting implementation will provide important evidence to underpin NHS England policies and guidance and DHSC policy oversight. Thus, it is important that research is undertaken to inform and support DHSC and NHS England as they roll out the new contractual processes and support systems required.