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'Practice nurses could help relieve GPs of half their consultations'

Workforce boost essential if under-pressure nurses are to expand general practice role

Nurses could take on up to half of all GP consultations to make the NHS in England more efficient, a think tank claims.

The public sector think tank Reform says practice nurses, community matrons and pharmacists could take on an extra 57 million patient consultations relating to common conditions and medicines each year. Currently 124 million of the 372 million GP practice appointments are led by practice nurses.

Authors of the Reform report say their proposal could save the NHS £727 million per year and have called on the government to abandon plans to train an extra 5,000 GPs.

However, nurse leaders and GPs say the plan is not feasible because there is a shortage of practice nurses.

Queen’s Nursing Institute chief executive Crystal Oldman said: ‘Practice nurses are part of the solution, not the whole solution in primary care.’

She called for a workforce plan for practice nurses to ensure there are enough available to meet current and future demands.

A QNI survey of 3,400 practice nurses found one third are due to retire by 2020, and 43.1% do not believe their nursing team has enough trained staff.

A recent report in The Lancet showed that GPs' workloads have increased by 16% in the past seven years. It was followed by calls from academics to expand roles for clinical staff other than GPs.

Royal College of GPs chair Maureen Baker said: ‘Our patients are living longer and with multiple, long-term conditions, meaning our workload is more complex. Yet our workforce is not rising in step with demand, and over the past decade, investment in general practice has fallen significantly.

‘Relying more on practice nurses, for example, is impossible when many surgeries are struggling to recruit – and existing practice nurses aren’t simply sitting around waiting for patients to walk through the door, they are under just as much pressure as GPs.’

RCGP nurse champion Jenny Aston said: ‘We need a strategy for developing the nursing side of general practice. Currently no-one is taking ownership of nurse training. There is huge scope for the development of nurses once we can attract them into general practice.’

She said practice nurses could undertake screening, health education and the monitoring of long-term conditions, but would need to be trained to a high level.

An NHS England spokesperson said a practice nursing strategy will be developed.

To read the Reform report click here

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