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General practice nurses: essential to community care, but why do they feel undervalued?

The pandemic has shown their resilience and adaptability, but Queen’s Nursing Institute chief Crystal Oldman is keen to ensure more equitable treatment and recognition for general practice nurses

The pandemic has shown their resilience and adaptability, but Queens Nursing Institute chief Crystal Oldman is keen to ensure more equitable treatment and recognition for general practice nurses

For community nurses, the pressures of working during the COVID-19 pandemic have clearly been immense. But what has not been so clear is the individual experiences of those working in general practice.

General practice nurses (GPNs) have been central to managing the care of their local communities under the challenging circumstances of the pandemic.

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The pandemic has shown their resilience and adaptability, but Queen’s Nursing Institute chief Crystal Oldman is keen to ensure more equitable treatment and recognition for general practice nurses

A queue for COVID-19 vaccinations. Picture: Alamy

For community nurses, the pressures of working during the COVID-19 pandemic have clearly been immense. But what has not been so clear is the individual experiences of those working in general practice.

General practice nurses (GPNs) have been central to managing the care of their local communities under the challenging circumstances of the pandemic.

They have played a central part in keeping GP surgeries safe and open to their local population as well as offering an alternative to face-to-face consultations where appropriate.

GPNs have also worked closely with colleagues in care homes and community services, demonstrating a true partnership and person-centred approach to supporting their communities.

General practices have made significant changes to the ways they offer services to patients

As the pandemic spread in the UK, general practices made significant changes in the ways in which they offered services to patients to reduce the spread of the virus. This included taking measures to reduce footfall into surgeries, decreasing routine face-to-face consultations and providing remote consultations where possible.

Based on GPNs’ social media posts these measures were having a significant effect on their nursing practice. But as they work in diverse surgeries and clinics of different sizes, outside the structures of the NHS, data on how they have been coping during the pandemic has been in short supply.

All the while the media, as usual, has focused its coverage on hospitals and intensive care. So in early summer 2020 the Queen’s Nursing Institute undertook a major survey of the GPN workforce.

We were overwhelmed by the response to the survey, with 3,177 GPNs taking part, primarily in England but also in other UK countries.

‘New normal’ seems likely to endure in primary care

The thousands of responses received demonstrate not only how challenging the situation has been for the GPN workforce since the start of the pandemic, but also how resilient and adaptable nurses have been when asked to change their way of working, rapidly and fundamentally.

Some 71% of respondents had moved largely or entirely to giving consultations remotely, by phone or video link. This ‘new normal’ is now being spoken of as something that is likely to endure in primary care, as in other healthcare settings. Eight out of ten (82%) said their hours of work were unchanged, while others had increased or decreased their hours of working.

Just 65% of respondents said they had the necessary equipment to carry out remote consultations during the first wave of the pandemic, while 14% said they did not. The remainder said the question was not applicable to them.

Almost 80% said they felt supported by their employer during the pandemic but only 34% felt supported by colleagues.

QNI plans symposium about GPN workforce issues this spring

While most GPNs feel well-supported by their employers, there is clearly a significant minority who do not.

Areas of concern included a lack of paid sick leave when needing to self-isolate, lack of personal protective equipment and confusion about messaging and guidance. What was also evident in the survey responses was a feeling of a lack of recognition and feeling undervalued, given GPNs’ significant knowledge, skills and level of responsibility.

Our nurses are right to be concerned about these key issues. As a charity that supports all nurses working in the community, in primary and social care, the QNI is keen to help develop solutions to these issues and we are planning to hold a symposium about GPN workforce issues this spring.

Working with NHS England, GPNs, general practitioners and other key stakeholders, our aim is to help ensure more consistent and equitable treatment and recognition for all GPNs, who together play such a vital role in individual and population health.

Find out more

Queen’s Nursing Institute (2020) General Practice Nurse Survey Analysis 2020


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