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Practice nurses struggle with growing workloads, study shows

Workloads in general practices in England have increased by 16% over seven years, a major study has found

Practice nurses and GPs in England are struggling with growing workloads as the number and length of patient consultations increase, according to a major study.

Workloads in general practices have increased by 16% over seven years and are reaching ‘saturation point’, the largest ever analysis of primary care consultations has found.

Researchers, who looked at 100 million consultations in almost 400 practices between 2007 and 2014, found that consultations, including those on the phone, increased by 3% for practice nurses and 14% for GPs.

Appointments with patients are lengthening, leaving doctors and nurses with little time to complete other tasks.

The study, which is published in The Lancet, showed that the average consultation time increased over seven years from 8.45 minutes to 8.86 minutes.

Richard Hobbs, lead author from the Nuffield Department of Primary Care and Health Sciences, University of Oxford, said: ‘For many years, doctors and nurses have reported increasing workloads, but for the first time, we are able to provide objective data that this is indeed the case. Recruitment of new GPs and nurses remains low while the population in England steadily increases.’

Primary care experts writing a comment piece in the same issue of The Lancet called for practice nurses to carry out more consultations to support their GP colleagues.

Matthew Thompson, from the department of family medicine at the University of Washington, and Fiona Walter, from the primary care unit at the University of Cambridge, said that there needed to be a move away from a model dominated by GPs.

‘Data shows that English general practice is currently top heavy, with about three times more GP than nurse consultations,’ they wrote.

‘Expansion of the roles of different types of clinical support staff, rather than simply employing more GPs, is an underused approach in the UK, leaving GPs to bear the burden.’

Read the study here

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