Primary care and general practice in Northern Ireland would benefit from more nurses with advanced level practice skills, according to new analysis.
The Department of Health-commissioned report Advanced Nursing Practice in Northern Ireland also argued that ANP roles in primary care need to ‘move beyond a perception of filling gaps in existing provision to enabling wider service transformation’.
The report – which was produced by the Northern Ireland Practice and Education Council for Nursing and Midwifery (NIPEC) – observes that primary care has seen the biggest development of ANP roles in Northern Ireland, with 52 primary care ANP programmes commissioned between 2017 and 2022.
ANPs often work as part of a larger primary care team, serving as the first point of contact for a diverse group of patients under the review of GPs, the analysis suggested.
Many are also employed in individual practices or across GP federations in Northern Ireland, working within ‘a new model of care in a multi-professional context to improve patient outcomes’.
According to the report, ‘unprecedented challenges’ in primary care, including increased workload and workforce issues, are driving the expansion of nursing roles.
It added that the support of ANPs was reducing pressure on general practice in Northern Ireland, against a backdrop of rising demand and increased patient complexity.
As with other UK countries, these pressures were mainly due to ‘an ageing population, initiatives to move care from hospitals to the community, and rising public expectations’.
Concerns over the future supply of ANPs due to ‘underlying workforce issues’ are highlighted in the report.
According to the findings, effective workforce planning, including succession planning, will ‘ensure that the ANP workforce is developed and deployed in a way that meets population needs, and therefore services demand, through different models of service delivery and multi-disciplinary working’.
The report recommends that the Department of Health refreshes the Advanced Nursing Practice Framework, broadening the scope to include the wider integrated health and care system, and aligning it to relevant education and regulation standards and requirements.
Maria McIlgorm, Northern Ireland’s chief nursing officer, said: ‘I firmly believe that this report and its recommendations will have a valuable impact in terms of further developing advanced practice here in Northern Ireland, as nurses take on more complex and expert roles.
‘We already have evidence of the high-quality care this brings for those who use our services.
‘This must be our ultimate goal, and I am committed to growing this workforce and embedding advanced nursing practice across a range of clinical settings.’