Practice nurses handle two-fifths of GP consultations, audit finds

The National Audit Office has completed a 'stocktake' of access to GPs

Nearly two-fifths of consultations in general practices in England are now handled by practice nurses, a national audit has shown.

The number of patients dealt with by practice nurses rather than GPs in England’s 7,875 doctors’ surgeries is rising.

Over the last 10-year spell for which data is available, the proportion of consultations handled by practice nurses rose from 25% to 38%.

A survey of patients in the National Audit Office stocktake of access to GPs reveals 65% felt happy to consult a nurse.

The data also revealed that one in 10 patients could not get an appointment at their local practice when they last tried, with the statistics worse in deprived areas, and better in affluent districts.

In response to the audit, MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the public accounts committee, said that it is contributing to pressure on hospital emergency departments, where an estimated 5.8 million people ended up in 2012-13 having failed to get a GP appointment.

She said: ‘There is an unacceptable postcode lottery for access to general practice.’

Ms Hillier added that each hospital visit costs the NHS £103 more than it would have had the patient been seen by a GP. A fifth of patients say surgery hours do not suit them.

Currently 12% of GP jobs are unfilled, with recruitment and retention still serious issues, the audit found. 

Women now make up 50% of full-time GPs, up from 37% 10 years ago.

The government has pledged to ensure everyone has 8am-8pm access to GPs, seven days a week, by 2020.


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