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Is your PCN Agreement fit for the new GP Contract

The new GP Contract for 2020/21 was recently published. Unsurprisingly, it contained a big emphasis on Primary Care Networks (‘PCN’s). It is becoming increasingly clear that PCNs are here to stay, and a significant share of future monies to General Practice will be routed through PCNs. There are already more additional PCN roles which have been set out in the new contract, and it is a reasonable expectation that by 2025 an average PCN will be responsible for managing costs of around £1m. With so much money at stake, good governance will be critical.

The role of the PCN Agreement

The PCN Agreement is best thought of as the ‘constitution’ of the PCN and it is thus central to good governance. Its principal role is to describe the purpose and membership of the PCN, how decisions will be made, what key control processes will be in place, how disputes will be resolved, and how members can join and leave. More operational matters which are not permanent and can change frequently (such as role descriptions and detailed costs) are best dealt with in a more flexible way as part of ongoing PCN management.

Characteristics of a good PCN Agreement

A well drafted PCN will have a number of key characteristics, and it is worth checking to see how many of these yours has:

1. It should be unambiguous. The PCN Agreement is a legally enforceable contract and you must be confident that you will be able to rely on it in court. Vague statements like “VAT requirements are still to be clarified” are not terms that you would want to see in a constitution or indeed any legal document. Any member practice incurreing PCN costs or liabilities will want to be sure that these can be identified and recovered – through court action if necessary.

2. It should set principles, but not all the detailed rules. For example, one principle is likely to be that all PCN related costs are shared costs, probably shared by list size. The major cost categories will be defined, but the specific costs associated with each role (like an employee’s salary and associated overhead) plus any changes to the default allocation methodology will be agreed on a case by case basis as these will differ for each role. This means of course that it is also critical to document the ongoing management decisions of the PCN

3. It should be easy to read and not full of legal jargon. PCN Members and managers need to be able to understand the rules that have been set, without having to call a solicitor every time they have a question about them.

4. It should be robust but flexible. It needs to ensure that some things are very hard to change, but other things are much easier. This combination of robustness and flexibility is one of the hardest things to achieve, and many PCNs will have erred too much on the side of caution by requiring that all decisions are unanimous. We are of the view that there are normally only a couple of things which are so fundamental that they would require unanimity.

5. It should incentivise members to participate. This is best done by making it hard to veto decisions, but permitting individual practices to opt out of particular services if they so wish.

6. It must deal with 2 levels of governance: How the Core Network Practices deal with the DES monies, and; how the wider membership deliver more integrated services to the patient population. We have seen too many PCN agreements which only deal with the first of these.

If you are in any doubt about the quality or fitness of your PCN Agreement, we would be happy to provide you with a free, no obligation assessment of it. If it needs improving we can either recommend changes, or provide you with a new, comprehensive and bespoke PCN Agreement for a very competitive fixed price.

For a free initial chat about this or any other legal concerns you might have, please contact Nils Christiansen n.christiansen@drsolicitors.com or Daphne Robertson d.robertson@drsolicitors.com or call us on 01483 511555.