The Welsh Government has been urged to ensure that general practice nursing is seen as ‘an attractive career option’ for newly registered nurses, amid fresh concerns over an ageing workforce.
A new report from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Wales has laid bare the nursing workforce challenges across the country, including within primary care.
Data collated by the college suggests that in September 2022, there were 1,023 full-time equivalent registered nurses working in general practices across Wales.
A large majority of general practice nurses (GPNs) in Wales are female (96%) and less than one in 20 of female GPNs are 29 or younger.
In addition, more than half (54.2%) of female GPNs are aged 50 or over, while 41.5% are aged between 30 and 49.
Meanwhile, 14.8% of all GPNs are aged 60 to 64 and 4.5% are aged 65 or older.
The small number of male GPNs in Wales is ‘spread across a wide range of ages, with a slight concentration aged between 45 and 54’, the annual workforce report noted.
The report warned: ‘The age profile of GPNs is concerning: nurses approaching or older than 55 may be considering leaving the workforce as they near retirement age.
‘Owing to their numbers, this could have a devastating impact on the delivery of primary care.’
RCN Wales urged the Welsh Government to ‘ensure that nursing in GP settings is seen as an attractive career option for newly qualified nurses’.
It added that GPNs were ‘essential’ for delivering the Primary Care Model for Wales and stressed the importance of the profession in being included in the ‘design and delivery’ of care in their local areas, also known as ‘cluster care’.
The RCN Wales Nursing in Numbers 2023 report also explores workforce challenges within the NHS in Wales.
The report revealed that the number of registered nurse vacancies within the NHS had jumped 58% in a year period.
According to RCN Wales, there were an estimated 2,717 registered nurse vacancies in NHS Wales in 2022 – up from 1,719 in 2021.
Nurses within the NHS in Wales also worked an addition 69,877 hours ‘over and above their normal hours’, the report noted. This was the equivalent of an extra 1,863 full-time nurses, it added.
Helen Whyley, RCN Wales director, said: ‘The Welsh Government needs to up its investment in this essential profession which makes up 40% of the NHS Wales workforce.
‘There are 2,717 registered nurse vacancies in the NHS alone and further shortages in the independent and social care sectors.’
She added: ‘Nursing staff are exhausted, and recruitment hasn’t kept pace with patient need.’
The report comes after the Welsh Government committed to pay restoration and several non-pay elements covering flexible working and career progression – an offer that was recently accepted by RCN members following a long-running dispute.
In light of this new report, Ms Whyley said she was calling on the minister for health and social services, Eluned Morgan, ‘not to taking nursing for granted or allow the economic context to water down that ambition’.
‘Listen to nursing staff, safeguard patients, and make sure there is an NHS able to deliver care for future generations,’ she added.
The RCN Wales blueprint outlines several recommendations for the Welsh Government and health leaders, including around: improving data for workforce planning; ensuring nurse retention; sustaining nursing in social care; delivering safe and effective care; supporting nurse education; and strengthening and diversifying the nursing workforce.
Latest data published by the government in August 2023 suggested there were 2,290 full-time equivalent nursing, midwifery, and health visiting vacancies as at 31 March 2023.
But RCN Wales states that its own NHS vacancy data, collected via Freedom of Information requests to health boards, provides a ‘more accurate picture’ and it called for more detail in the government’s future releases ‘relating specifically to vacancies among registered nurses’.
Responding to the report, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: ‘Our National Workforce Implementation Plan (NWIP) sets out how we will retain and increase the NHS Wales workforce to meet future demand and deal with a worldwide shortage of healthcare workers, including reducing reliance on agency staff.
‘We have increased our training budget for the ninth year in a row to £281m this year, creating an extra 527 training places, including more than 380 more nurse training places.’
They also pointed to a nurse retention plan published in Wales earlier this month, which aims to ‘support organisations in addressing challenges in nurse retention’.