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Practice nurse numbers falling despite Government recruitment boost

The number of practice nurses and non-GP staff in primary care fell in the year leading up to September 2017, despite Government pledges to boost recruitment.

Official statistics, released by NHS Digital, reveal that the number of full-time equivalent nurses in general practice decreased from 15,827 in September 2016 to 15,800 in September 2017.

This comes after health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledged, in June 2015, that the Government would expand the primary care team by ‘at least 10,000 extra primary care staff – including 5,000 GPs, [plus] practice nurses, district nurses, physician associates and pharmacists’.

However, the latest figures represent a rebound in the number of nurses since March 2017 when there were just 15,528 practice nurses in the workforce.

The number of admin and non-clinical staff, such as receptionists, has also seen a decline, with 430 staff members leaving practices in the 12 months up to September 2017. 

This is despite Government promises of £45m in extra funding for receptionists and clerical staff in the GP Forward View ‘to play a greater role in navigation of patients and handling clinical paperwork to free up GP time’.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP committee workforce lead, said the figures 'represent a trend of practices being unable to recruit GPs and nurses, so practices strive to provide high-quality treatment for patients with long-term vacancies'.

He said: 'Growing numbers of practices are being forced to either closing their lists to new registrations, in order to manage their existing population safely, or closing altogether resulting in the loss of local GP or community nursing services for some communities.

'In fact, in a survey we conducted, almost two-thirds of GPs said more community nurses are needed to ensure practices can continue to provide safe care to patients.'

Nevertheless, NHS England has previously claimed the recruitment of non-GP staff is a success, with board papers last year saying the wider general practice workforce ‘has grown by 2,709 full time equivalents’ between September 2015 and March 2017.

Meanwhile, the latest figures show that the number of non-GP staff, such as pharmacists, physiotherapists and physicians associates, has increased by 16% in the last year from 10,009 in September 2016 to 11,610 in September 2017.