Primary care workforce shortages threaten care in the community plans

The King’s Fund argues that shortages and other critical pressures within the NHS workforce could jeopardise plans outlined in the NHS Five Year Forward View to deliver new models of care

The NHS’s continuing drive to treat more patients in community settings has not been met with corresponding increases in primary care staff numbers, a health think tank has concluded.

The King’s Fund report, Workforce Planning in the NHS, suggests that some staff are being drawn to the private sector, the acute sector is still expanding and that acute trusts have bumped up their nursing numbers following the Francis Inquiry.

The report, which analyses workforce trends in the three workforce areas that are critical to the delivery of the new models of care outlined in the NHS Five Year Forward View, states: ‘In the wake of the Francis Inquiry, demand for nurses within the acute sector has risen considerably, and Health Education England reports that this has caused a slowdown moving from acute to community nursing. Despite longstanding aspirations to raise the level and range of service provided in the community, it is difficult to see any increases in the key staff groups covered here.’

In primary care, the report says the well-documented pressures on general practice have led to fewer training posts being filled and more GPs planning to retire early, resulting in a growing shortfall in the number of GPs.

It adds that while the number of health visitors has increased by nearly a quarter over the past five years, the number of senior district nurses has fallen by 30% and there are now 16% fewer community matrons.

The greater strategic priority given to mental health has also not translated into extra staff, the King’s Fund argues. The report states: ‘Requests for temporary mental health staff have increased by two thirds since the beginning of 2013/14. The future supply of mental health nursing staff may also be constrained, as Health Education England expects the ageing profile of the mental health workforce to start slowing its growth from around 2017 as more people leave due to retirement.’

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: ‘We are working with organisations across the system to increase the supply of shortage groups and to support health care providers to retain and develop their existing workforce.’

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