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Publication, Part of

Primary Care Network Workforce, 30 September 2021

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Data Quality - September 2021

Data Completeness and Coverage

This is the seventh time that information about the PCN workforce has been published. By 30 September 2021, around 94.5% of PCNs had activated user accounts on the National Workforce Reporting System (NWRS) tool, which is the system used to collect data on the PCN and General Practice workforces. Although many of these users were already experienced with the GP practice-level submissions, this was a new collection early in 2020 and completion rates were initially very low.

This is still a relatively new collection and the completeness and coverage of the data are still improving . When we first collected data on the PCN Workforce in March 2020, we received valid data from 15% of active PCNs.  User feedback and other evidence suggest that the NWRS completion rates by PCN users were adversely affected early in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. For September 2020, 50.3% of active PCNs had submitted data. This figure has risen each quarter and by September 2021, was 78.4%. We continue to work with PCNs and other stakeholders to improve the data quality. Changing data  coverage and completeness should be taken into consideration when reviewing the figures.

Of the 1,255 PCNs active during the second quarter of 2021:

  • 94.5% had activated their NWRS user account by the end of September 2021. September 2021 was the first collection from the new NWRS tool, which was launched in July 2021. The new tool requires users to re-register, and so this percentage is lower than the 97.8% who had registered on the old tool by June 30 2021, and may remain lower in the short term.
  • 984 (78.4%), across 101 of the 106 CCGs, had submitted data including 39 CCGs where every PCN submitted workforce data.
  • Conversely, all PCNs in 5 CCGs failed to submit any valid workforce data.
  • 32 PCNs provided information about contracted services only; as we cannot determine how many people are working in the applicable roles, this means that these PCNs show a count of zero in the PCN-level headcount Table (2b) and the England-level headcounts presented in Table 1b are based upon returns from 952 PCNs.

This publication is based on the CCG structure as at 1 April 2021 which, following a restructure and several mergers, comprises 29 fewer CCGs than in the year from 1 April 2020. Consequently, the above data coverage figures and percentages relating to CCGs are not comparable either side of April 2021.

The PCN population is still evolving, the size of their respective workforces varies, and from their inception, there was always an expectation that the PCN workforce would grow over time as new roles were introduced. For example, in December 2020, 62% of the PCNs submitting workforce information reported fewer than five FTE staff, while by September 2021 this figure had fallen to 25%.  Initially, targeted funding focused on the recruitment of Clinical Pharmacists and Social Prescribing Link Workers, and additional roles have gradually been introduced.

In September 2021, 442 PCNs provided details of their clinical directors, of which 15 were sharing the responsibility between a Medical Director (GP) and a Nursing or Direct Patient Care clinical director. Clinical director submissions from a further 36 PCNs failed data validation as no working hours were provided, and the affected records had to be excluded.

The figures reported in this release are effective on 30 September 2021. However, because the data and coverage  are not complete, users should be mindful that these figures may not be properly representative of the size of the PCN workforce.

There have been increases in headcounts and FTE counts for the majority of job roles between June 2021 and September 2021. However, comparisons between periods are not advised since it is likely that, as a greater proportion of active PCNs begins to engage with the NWRS collection tool, staff who were in post in previous quarters are being recorded for the first time in the most recent quarter. As a result, increases in staffing levels are likely to be smaller than they would seem if making year-on-year comparisons, as the increases are likely to be distributed across the whole span of the publication series.  In addition, we advise you not to make comparisons between quarters, but only on a year-on-year basis, as figures are affected by seasonal variation.

PCN Structure and Membership

The PCNs are still developing; a small number of GP practices have changed their PCN membership at some point since July 2019, while a few practices left their original PCN without joining another. In addition, some PCNs that were created during 2019 or later have subsequently merged into a single organisation while others have divided to form several new PCNs. For this reason, the count of PCNs varies between reporting periods.

Contracted Services

Some direct patient care staff may be employed by another organisation and deployed to a PCN as "contracted service". Up to the September 2020 release, these roles were described in this publication as "pooled resource" and are described in the Background and Data Sources sections in March 2020's release and in the Background Data Quality section. In such cases, it is possible that these staff are also counted in other Official Statistics, such as those for the NHS Hospital and Community Health Service (HCHS) workforce.  Table 1c in the Bulletin Tables provides England-level FTE counts for contracted services and the percentage contribution these contracted staff make to the overall FTE total shown in Table 1a to help you to understand and quantify the potential scale of double-counted staff.

In July 2021, we introduced a new version of the National Workforce Reporting Service (NWRS). The new workforce reporting service is easier to use and has been designed with direct feedback from users. In the contracted services section of the new NWRS, users now need to set the average weekly hours to zero where that service has not been used in the latest period. Previously, users marked the relevant record as inactive. 

The contracted services data in the September 2021 collection showed a larger than usual increase in FTE. It is possible that this is in part due to PCNs leaving hours information untouched within records for services they have not used, rather than setting them to zero. Guidance has since been issued directly to PCNs to explain this process and it is expected that this will result in more accurate contracted services information being submitted for the December 2021 collection.  For this release, it should be noted that all September FTE figures relating to Direct Patient Care job roles may be inflated as a result of this issue. 

Please refer to the Background Data Quality section for more general information about the PCN data quality and the National Workforce Reporting System (NWRS).

Last edited: 17 November 2021 4:07 pm