Introduction to Primary Care

Services within primary care provide the first point of contact in the healthcare system, acting as the ‘front door’ of the NHS.  Primary care includes general practice, community pharmacy, dental and optometry services.

Primary care professionals, such as GPs, practice nurses or pharmacists, look after the basics of care, focusing on preventing illness, making diagnoses and treating conditions that don’t need hospital care.

The aim of primary care is to provide an easy, accessible route to care. Primary care professionals help treat common minor illnesses and long-term conditions, as well as helping to prevent future ill-health through advice, immunisation and screening programmes. Family planning and sexual health services are also part of primary care.

The main source of primary healthcare in the NHS is general practice. GP surgeries take a holistic approach, dealing with a broad range of physical, mental and emotional problems. As well as finding out the cause of a person’s symptoms, GPs also act on behalf of the patient as an advocate, making sure that people who are living with health problems get all the care they need. Depending on the health problem, patients may be referred by the GP to hospital or to a specialist.

For a short video summarising the current NHS structure, as well as how it is changing, please see the resource we have included linking to The King’s Fund video, ‘How does the NHS in England work and how is it changing?‘.

Integrated Care Systems (ICSs)

ICSs are partnerships of organisations, coming together to plan and deliver joined-up health and care services.  Each ICS includes:

  • Integrated care partnership (ICP)
  • Integrated care board (ICB)
  • Local authorities
  • Place-based partnerships
  • Provider collaboratives
Integrated Care Boards (ICBs)

The ICB is responsible for developing a plan to meet the health needs of the ICS population, managing the NHS budget and arranging the provision of health services within the ICS area, through the PCNs and, in turn, the GP practices.

Integrated Neighbourhood Teams (INTs)

INTs are a new initiative set out in the Fuller Stocktake report.  The aim is to further integrate primary care, by joining separate teams to create “teams of teams” within neighbourhoods, rooted in a sense of the shared ownership for improving the health and wellbeing of the population.

It is expected that these teams will be built over the course of 2023 and that there should be full coverage, within England, by April 2024.

Primary Care Networks (PCNs)

PCNs bring together GP surgeries, within a similar area, in order to work at scale.  This improves the ability of the surgeries to recruit and retain staff, to manage financial and estates pressures, to provide a wider range of services to patients and to more easily integrate with the wider health and care system.

General Practice

GP surgeries operate as small, independent businesses; they are regulated by, and receive funding from, the NHS, but all act as separate entities.

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