Pharmacists concerned over employment implications of PCNs

An increasing number of primary care pharmacists are raising concerns about the way PCNs are being introduced and the impact it is having on their employment. The PDAU is encouraging members working in this field who are concerned to get in touch so they can receive appropriate advice for their situation.

Wed 31st July 2019 The PDA

Primary Care Networks (PCNs) are a new part of the NHS England landscape and their introduction is designed to improve aspects of patient care. It is important that the impact on individual pharmacist’s employment is properly managed to retain and make best use of this highly skilled network of pharmacists.

Unfortunately, the PDAU are hearing from pharmacists that this is not always the case and they report that their employment rights are being ignored.  Whilst NHS England are responsible for this public health initiative, the legal responsibility for how employees are treated rests with the current and future employer of any pharmacist. It is essential that there is sufficient information provided to pharmacists to allow for a reasonable and fair process to be followed when organisational change is undertaken.

Some cases notified to the PDAU include:

  • A pharmacist who has been told in general terms that their employer will change, but no TUPE transfer and/or redundancy process is being followed, leaving the member unaware of the outcome.  This failure to follow proper process is being challenged
  • A pharmacist whose employer has failed to consult them in good time about a change to their role, but who is now told their role has been “downgraded”.  This failure to consult with an employee is being challenged.

These are just two examples of what is beginning to look like a trend in the mistreatment of pharmacists. As pharmacists, we know the importance of following proper process, but when it comes to the employment of pharmacists too often the employers pay lip service to employment rights and in some cases are breaking the law.

The Kings Fund describes PCNs as follows:

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 improving 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 more easily integrate with the wider health and care system. 

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, but without creating new statutory bodies.

Since 1 July 2019, all except a handful of GP practices in England have come together in around 1,300 geographical networks covering populations of approximately 30–50,000 patients… 

…Most networks are geographically based and, between them, cover all practices within a clinical commissioning group (CCG) boundary. There are some exceptions where there were already well-functioning networks that are not entirely geographically based. Some networks cross CCG boundaries and there are even cases where a single GP practice is classified as a PCN.

While practices are not mandated to join a network, they will be losing out on significant extra funding if they do not, and their neighbouring networks will be funded to provide services to those patients whose practice is not covered by a network.

Just as there is no single model for what constitutes a PCN, there is also a wide range of employment situations for pharmacists.  For example, pharmacists may have been employed directly by a GP practice, by a CCG, by a CSU, by a GP Federation or have been employed elsewhere and as a result of the move to a PCN structure they could be employed by the same employer or by a different GP practice, Federation or by someone else.

In all such cases employment rights need to be respected or the employer risks causing significant stress and disruption to the employee and being challenged through grievances or ultimately employment tribunals claims if they have breached the law.  The PDAU would much rather pharmacists were treated properly in the first place for the benefit of all. For example:

  • If a pharmacist’s job is ending by one employer and they then perform the same job at another employer then it may be that TUPE applies and the employers need to ensure appropriate consultation and management of the process.
  • If a pharmacist’s job is ending at one employer and they are being asked to commence another job at either a new employer or even the same employer, then it may be that person is potentially redundant and the appropriate processes and communication need to be carefully managed.
  • If an employer claims a pharmacist’s existing job is being changed then whether or not the individual is obliged or entitled to take the new job may depend on the details of what has changed; for example how the working hours, location, job content or grade are impacted
  • Where multiple pharmacists may have had a reasonable entitlement to a new role, then the employer needs to be able to explain how people have been fairly appointed/rejected for a particular role and be able to demonstrate how any direct or indirect discrimination has been avoided.

These considerations are just indicative of the area of law that applies when such a restructure takes place.   PDAU will support pharmacists to ensure their rights are protected and encourage any member with questions about how PCNs are impacting on their employment to get in contact.

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