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Do small grants help primary care networks reduce health inequalities?

NHS England (NHSE) describe health inequalities as unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population and between different groups within society. NHSE (2019) highlighted the need to respond to a widening gap around health inequalities in their Long Term Plan. They describe the role that Integrated Care Systems (ICS) may have to address this gap in collaboration with local government and voluntary sectors.  In 2021 they established the National Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Programme (HiQiP). HiQiP are responsible for setting the direction for tackling healthcare inequalities ensuring equitable access, excellent experience, and optimal outcomes. Within HiQiP an approach to reducing healthcare inequalities Core20PLUS5 was launched, with a focus on working with the most 20% deprived in the population and a priority in five key clinical areas of health inequalities.

Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, and Berkshire West (BOB) Integrated Care Board (ICB) offered a small amount of funding for Primary Care Networks (PCNs).  The funding was to deliver a one-year project which specifically sought to address health inequalities, ideally in the CORE20PLUS5 category. 12PCNs who had the highest levels of deprivation in BOB ICS were invited to complete a non-competitive expression of interest form. 10 PCNs took up the offer.

This rapid insight review was undertaken over one year and completed in May 2024. Interviews were held with managers, clinicians and project leads within ten PCNs across BOB. The aim was to understand how the provision of small grants to PCNs in the BOB region supported the reduction of health inequalities. Three workshops were undertaken with the PCNs to share learning.

Throughout the interviews and workshops, three core enablers became clear.

  • Funding – small funding can enable PCNs to explore where their efforts may be best served
  • Co-design – this is paramount to explore realistic offerings between communities and health care providers
  • Key skills and job roles – these must evolve to meet the needs of the ever-changing landscape both in communities and health providers

Hear what the PCNs had to say:

  • “It may be a little pot of money, but it has given us as a team the opportunity to learn and improve our skillset whilst having a positive impact on patients” GP Lead
  • “Be flexible – what you have in your head doesn’t always translate when you are working with people” PCN manager
  • “Funding gives us headspace to think and give us time to fact find” PCN manager

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