What Primary Health Networks do

Primary Health Networks (PHNs) assess the health care needs of their community and commission health services to meet those needs, minimising gaps or duplication. They support health services to connect with each other to improve people’s care and strengthen the primary health care system.

Role of PHNs

PHNs have 3 primary roles. They:

  • commission health services to meet the needs of people in their regions and address gaps in primary health care
  • work closely with general practitioners (GPs) and other health professionals to build the capacity of the health workforce capacity to deliver high-quality care.
  • integrate health services at the local level to create a better experience for people, encourage better use of health resources, and eliminate service duplication.

Assessing community needs

PHNs regularly assess the health needs of their community. This involves:

  • looking at evidence from various sources
  • identifying groups of people who are more at risk of poor health than others
  • mapping existing health services
  • identifying gaps or inefficiencies.

During this process, PHNs might consult with:

  • members of the community who use the health system or are interested in improving it
  • general practitioners and other health professionals
  • health service providers
  • community workers
  • local hospital networks or equivalent
  • local councils
  • government departments
  • academics
  • elected representatives.

This approach encourages tailored solutions that meet local needs and address community priorities, guided by:

Commissioning services

PHNs do not provide health services themselves. Instead they commission them and support services to improve efficiency.

Following the needs assessment, PHNs:

  • prioritise and plan services that will meet their community’s needs and address gaps
  • work with stakeholders and health service providers to make sure they can provide the required services
  • work with other funders to pool resources and coordinate services, to avoid duplication and waste of resources
  • purchase or procure new services or activities
  • monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of those services.

This approach ensures primary health care services:

  • are located where they are needed most and where they have the greatest impact
  • receive funding in line with priorities for their region
  • work together to reduce gaps and duplication between different types of services, and provide people with a better experience in the healthcare system
  • aim to reduce the number of unnecessary hospital visits.

The commissioning cycle of PHNs

Flowchart of the commissioning process

    Supporting health services

    PHNs provide ongoing support to general practitioners, pharmacists, nurses, and other health workers, as well as administrative staff. This helps to improve care and strengthen the primary health care system.

    Support might cover:

    • improving quality of care, so that different services work together to treat people and that people don’t go to hospital if they don’t need to
    • designing health promotion programs (such as for chronic conditions, mental health, diabetes, immunisation and sexual health)
    • developing workforce skills, including through education and training
    • increasing cultural awareness and competency
    • improving the health literacy of  the community
    • encouraging the use of digital health systems to help health professionals share  information, including through My Health Record
    • supporting health data management, including collecting information.

    PHNs provide this support in various ways, depending on need, including:

    • face to face
    • on site
    • by phone or email
    • through educational or networking events, including webinars
    • via online and printed resources, such as newsletters, brochures and guidelines.

    Read about how we support PHNs.

    Resources

    Primary Health Networks (PHN) collection of administrative and guidance documents

    This collection contains administrative documents for Primary Health Networks (PHNs), including guidelines, frameworks, information sheets and policies.

    Last updated: 
    2 September 2021

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