GP practices need to employ a wider mix of staff, report urges

Public Accounts Committee says patients rely too much on seeing GPs rather than nurses. 
Practice nurse

Patients are still relying too much on seeing GPs rather than nurses, mental health professionals and other staff, according to a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) progress report on access to general practice services in England.

Report calls for more staff such as practice nurses. Picture: iStock

The report, from a cross-party group of MPs, says NHS England and Health Education England should explore how to encourage GP practices to employ a wider mix of staff to ‘improve access and capacity in an effective and efficient manner’.

The PAC report states that patients ‘still often expect to see a GP rather than a nurse or other professional’. It warns that the small size of practice populations in some parts of the country, and the practical limitations of some GP premises, are preventing practices from being able to employ the most effective staff mix.

Opening hours

Patients still struggle to get GP appointments, according to the report. It adds that almost half of practices close at some point during the core hours of 8am to 6.30pm on Monday to Friday, with 18% closing by 3pm on at least one afternoon a week.

In some areas, 42% of practices close by 3pm. This forces more patients to turn to emergency departments, the report suggests.

Doctor numbers

The document also says there has been no progress in the past year on increasing the number of GPs, despite a government target to recruit 5,000 more by 2020.

The number had actually fallen from 34,592 full-time equivalent doctors in September 2015 to 34,495 in September 2016.

The PAC report adds that new extended hours arrangements could prove expensive and duplicate existing out-of-hours services.

Funding increase

A Conservative spokesperson said: ‘Our growing economy means more money for the NHS – and a 14% increase in primary care funding – so 17 million people can already see a GP at evenings and weekends.

‘Theresa May has been clear that she wants to see extended opening hours across the country, none of which could happen with Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister, propped up by a coalition of chaos that can’t invest in the NHS.’

Read the report here

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