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WiPPing us into shape

More than ever practice nurses are in need of leadership and support to deliver the long-term conditions agenda and the ever-increasing demands of GP services. Having a GPN lead is one way of doing this, as Donna Davenport recently discovered …

On 20 June 2008 I attended the Working In Partnership Project (WiPP) launch of the network of GPN Leads in London. In support of the WiPP campaign calling for every primary care trust (PCT) to appoint a practice nurse lead, PN leads across the country came together to raise the profile of their role and practice nurses at the forefront of primary care.

Over 48 PN leads from across the country attended and from the enthusiasm and excitement in the room from the start it was clearly going to be a successful and inspirational day.

Viv Bennett, Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England, opened up the session and talked about the primary care modernisation agenda and the practice nurse's role in this. Often I hear nurses say they don't know how to engage and influence future services under practice-based commissioning. Well Viv Bennett provided some suggestions:

  • Identify opportunities and barriers; start to see the barriers as opportunities!
  • Identify how and where you wish to demonstrate impact, as you know and understand your practice population better than anyone and importantly know where the gaps in service provision are.
  • Work with PCTs and PBC commissioners to design future services and identify skills and training needs. If you don't tell them what you need someone else will decide for you!
  • Work with PCT nurse directors/leaders on enabling participation in developments. There needs to be a practice nurse representative on every group.
  • Work with PCTs, GPs and others on local leadership arrangements. Practice nurses are leaders too, even though they sometimes don't recognise they have these skills.

There were a panel of eminent speakers, including: Marilyn Eveleigh, Lead Nurse and Head of Clinical Performance, Brighton and Hove City PCT (and Consultant Editor for NiP!); Phillipa Leach OBE, Former Principal Medical Officer for Primary Care, DH; Phillipa Ward, Practice Nurse and WiPP GPN leader; and Lynn Young, Primary Care Adviser for the RCN, who led the "Question Time" session and provided an opportunity for a multitude of challenging questions relating to practice nursing and recognition for the role.

After lunch there were a number of discussion groups looking at the future of practice nursing and raising the profile within PCTs at this challenging time. This included issues affecting the role, commissioning, training and continuing professional development and employment issues.
It was clear from the discussions that while the role of the practice nurse is unique and constantly changing, so is the role of GPN leads, which appears to involve different roles and responsibilities across the country. While this means that such roles have evolved and are adaptable to local need, there were numerous commonalities, such as being involved in training and mentoring as well as clinical governance, risk management and quality assurance.
By the very nature of their employment practice nurses continue to be seen in isolation from other primary care professionals, and it is vital that they have a voice at PCT level.

A number of PCTs have seen fit to eradicate the role of the GPN lead under the current reorganisation and financial strains, this seems very shortsighted. More than ever practice nurses are in need of leadership and support to deliver the long-term conditions agenda and the ever-increasing demands of GP services, such as health promotion, screening, additional services such as immunisation and vaccination and cytology, and more recently extended hours.

As always practice nurses will rise to the challenge but PCTs need to ensure they are supported and empowered to do this. Having a GPN lead is one way of doing this and ensures a commitment and recognition of the fantastic work practice nurses do.

Do you have a GPN lead and how do they support you? If you don't have one how does this disadvantage you and how do you get your voice heard at PCT level? Tell us what you think.