GPnetworks: How a simple idea changed the face of locum GP procurement in its own back-yard and how something saving approximately half a million pounds a year is a failure.
Author: Joe Aliferis
A few years ago, a friend of mine, a locum GP, asked me if I could design a web application that could allow locum GPs to share their availability to work with their potential employers – at the time, mostly Primary care practices.
I instinctively said yes as I knew if must be possible but then had to go away a think it through. A few months later, the first release of GPnetworks was born. This was back in 2004 – before Facebook and the explosion of social media. It was primitive but, compared to anything else out there at the time, it was revolutionary. A professional network that matched locums to the requirements of employers, in an elegant way. It saved time and money.
Myself and my friend quickly started the company up then won some local contracts from PCTs to supply it. In a matter of a few months, hundreds of GPs and practices were using it every day – saving time and money. We had created a system with a User Interface that was easy enough for non-techie folks to use but that delivered business functionality sophisticated enough to end their dependency on agencies – in our area at least.
Within a couple of years we had gained a few more PCT contracts are were delivering our solution to a network from Chichester to Eastbourne and into South London. We had a simple business model – a PCT procured the system for its entire area at a fixed annual fee and we rolled it out to all practices and locum GPs in that area.
By 2007 our system got its first major update – the key part of this was geolocating. We switched from matching people in groups, by notional geographical zones (PCT areas) to matching everyone, individually to everyone else, by distance. Or, to put it more succinctly, by proximity to each other. At this point we had a truly effective system capable of creating the most effective sharing of human resources possible within its scope. We had also built a full booking and scheduling system on top of our initial availability system, providing an end-to-end service. All we had to do now was expand the scope.
Then things changed…
Funding for the NHS began to be squeezed in all areas and soon our PCT funding dried up. It became known that PCTs were to be replaced by CCGs. We knew that our business model would no longer work so we set out to modify our system so that we could build individual relationships with each practice using our system.
Over the next couple of years, as PCT contracts were not renewed, we managed to convert almost all our practice customers to a direct relationship with us using a simple subscription model. This meant that they paid us directly an annual fee for unlimited use and support. However, the real long term effect of the change within the NHS and our subsequent change to a subscription model has been that we have been unable to grow over the last 6 years. Simply put, our business model does not work.
Today, GPnetworks is used frequently by its loyal customers and highly regarded by those that make use of it. On average it handles over 3000 user account logins a month from around 500 users. It sends out over 2200 work requests a month and schedules around 1200 confirmed work placements a month for locum GPs. It also helps to place many GPs into salaried posts, long term cover and partnerships via its sibling Salaried Jobs System. A free service for its subscribers.
The irony is that, were our system to be scaled up, were it to be rolled out over a wider area, it would become even more effective and could be saving many millions of pounds within Primary Care!
This is a bitter sweet effect for myself and my partner. On the one hand we had created something transformative, we had made it work, we had proved it could save time and money. On the other hand, we have so far failed to realise the full potential of our innovation. It sits in a small corner of the UK, a big success in its own back-garden, relatively unknown everywhere else.
Anyone got any ideas ?
Update: in March 2017, we released the third major update of our system. The innovation continues. For the full details of how GPnetworks works, who uses it, who could use it and how much could be saved, please drop me a message/connect.