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Strength in numbers

Flat-line funding coupled with a relentless demand for service means practice nursing team resilience could be in danger of depleting, while patient expectations simultaneously increase. As daunting as that may seem, we need to look beyond the headline; we have never been a group to shy away from opportunity. The reason practice nurses have been so successful as a profession is because we rally to the cause, look at what needs to be done and get on with it with a clear sense of purpose, pride and direction.

Our key attribute is that we embrace change, by adapting services to meet demand and by extending our skills. Team membership now includes healthcare assistants, phlebotomists, care co-ordinators, nurse practitioners and practice matrons. In recognition of our need to invest in an ageing workforce (backed up by workforce statistics) NHS Leeds West Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has recently welcomed learners - including undergraduate student nurses, preceptee practice nurses and return to practice nurses. We are also beginning to consider healthcare assistant (HCA) apprenticeships. Team proliferation of this magnitude is impressive, calling for us to become more focused and pragmatic, developing the right team, at the right pace, heading in the right direction.

As general practice undergoes a period of intense transformational review, we are looking to the practice nursing team as capable providers of care recognising skills, talent and role possibility in an unprecedented way. This includes emergency, planned, short and long-term care for single, recurring or long-term conditions and co-morbidities. We can't stand still and must continue to consider new approaches. This includes social prescribing as well as developing a much wider understanding of neighbourhoods and how third sector colleagues can help us achieve greater success for our patients. It is reassuring to see that our practice nursing teams are tenaciously rallying to the cause, predominantly through our preceptee practice nurse program. 

The program is giving us the opportunity to look at current services and think how we can do things differently and this includes rapid workforce investment. We have engaged with our CCG's member practices, establishing and defining goals and time frames so preceptees are able to become future-ready by focusing on attainment of Royal College of General Practitioner (RCGP) competencies within the 12-month training period. Developing a sound mentorship infrastructure is implicit within this, because patients must be assured they are receiving a quality service. It is important that the nurses on the preceptee scheme are equally able to develop under the guidance of clinically credible peers and leaders with collective organisational maturity to know what good really looks like, at a pace matching transformational progress.

The practice nursing team must not become distracted because workload capacity impedes their ability to engage. NHS Leeds West CCG has presented an opportunity through its preceptee practice nurse programme. This allows us to build upon the traditional values inherited from our ever-resilient practice nursing team while remaining undaunted by the quest for quality, person-centred care. Our CCG has listened to its practice nursing team and invested in its future now we need to make sure we, as practice nurses, rise to the challenge. We need to show how we can play an integral role in delivering our CCG's vision as well as demonstrating how we can play a role in delivering the vision of Simon Stevens, NHS England's Chief Executive, which he outlined in his Five Year Forward View.