Whether you’re struggling to remember the difference between your ICSs and your STPs or in a pickle over PCNs, fear not - Beth Kennedy has put together a handy guide to get you up to speed.


It’s a tough old time for community pharmacy. Having to get by on dwindling funding, squeezing in the time for carrying out more nationally commissioned services and stock shortages make things stressful enough. But add to that the sector’s shifting place in a changing primary care landscape, and it all suddenly becomes much more confusing.

Healthcare has long held a reputation for its overuse of obscure acronyms, and the primary care sector is no exception. What’s the difference, for example, between an integrated care system (ICS) and a sustainability and transformation partnership (STP)? And, more importantly, what do all of these acronyms mean for community pharmacists? Read on to find out.


Clinical commissioning group (CCG)

What’s a CCG?

Of all the terms on this cheat sheet, you’re most likely to know about CCGs because they’ve been around since 2012, following former health secretary Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care act in 2012. They came in to replace primary care trusts (PCTs).

In case you need a refresher, though, CCGs are statutory NHS bodies responsible for planning and commissioning local health services, according to NHS Clinical Commissioners. They are grouped geographically (for example, one county could house several CCGs) and there 191 of them as of April 2019.

CCGs are membership bodies made up primarily of local GPs, although other local healthcare professionals – including pharmacists – often sit on their elected governing body along with member GPs and lay members.


Where does community pharmacy fit in?

As stated above, pharmacists can sit on the leadership boards of CCGs. However, as CCGs are responsible for roughly two thirds of the NHS England budget, you are probably most familiar with them for their role in funding local healthcare services. For example, community pharmacies may receive funding from their CCG to provide locally commissioned services, reflecting the specific needs of the population they serve.


Sustainability and transformation partnership (STP)

What’s an STP?

Announced in 2015, the 44 STPs cover every area in England. According to NHS England, they were created to bring local councils and NHS organisations together to plan for the long-term needs of their communities. The specifics of what each STP focusses on therefore depends on the particular needs of the population they cover.


Where does community pharmacy fit in?

STPs are designed to bring local care providers and commissioners together, so there’s no reason why contractors can’t get involved. Whether it’s setting up a meeting with your local STP to discuss how your pharmacy can help deliver its goals or asking to sit within the STP itself, there are plenty of opportunities.


Integrated care system (ICS)

What’s an ICS?

So, here’s the confusing bit. ICSs are basically more advanced versions of STPs. In fact, a number of STPs have already become ICSs and NHS England expects that all STPs will have done the same by April 2021.

The difference between STPs and ICSs is that the latter involves even more collaboration between difference stakeholders. According to NHS England, 'In an integrated care system, NHS organisations, in partnership with local councils and others, take collective responsibility for managing resources, delivering NHS standards, and improving the health of the population they serve.'


Where does community pharmacy fit in?

See above under STPs. After all, collaboration is the name of the game in an ICS, so there is definitely a seat at the table for community pharmacy.


Primary care network (PCN)

What’s a PCN?

Announced in the latest GP contract, PCNs are the new kid on the primary care commissioning block. Of all the different groups laid out on this cheat sheet, PCNs arguably offer community pharmacy the most opportunities.

Covering groups of 30,000-50,000 patients, PCNs are groups of GP practices working with other local healthcare providers to meet local health needs


Where does community pharmacy fit in?

It is stipulated that PCNs should involve community pharmacy, giving the sector the perfect opportunity to show what it can do. This could be actively sitting within the PCN, liaising with practice pharmacists from member surgeries and liaising with your local network to find out which services your pharmacy can offer to help achieve its goals.