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Number of nursing associates in GP practices up 55% in a year

Number of nursing associates in GP practices up 55% in a year

The number of nurses working in general practice and primary care networks (PCNs) in England increased by just 4.5% in 2023, while the number nursing associates soared by 55.5%, latest data has shown.

The statistics from the latest Primary Care Workforce Quarterly Update showed a total of 17,615 full-time equivalent (FTE) nurses working in general practice and PCNs in December 2023, compared with 16,849 a year earlier.

However, FTE nursing associates in general practice and PCNs rose from 534 to 830 over the year.

The figures also revealed there were 4,412 FTE advanced nurse practitioners in general practice and PCNs in December 2023, rising 9.8% from 4,017 a year earlier.

The big rise in nursing associates follows warnings from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) that the role is increasingly being used to substitute general practice nurses (GPNs), which is ‘devaluing’ the profession, according to Heather Randle, RCN’s professional lead for primary care.

In addition, earlier in the year it came to light that NHSE was funding nursing associates to study a course typically designed for registered nurses who are new to general practice.

Both the nursing associate and advanced nurse practitioner roles are included within the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme – which can be used by PCNs to claim salary reimbursement for.

Nursing associates were first introduced in England in 2019, designed to bridge the gap between healthcare assistants and registered nurses, while plans have recently been announced for the role to be introduced to the NHS in Wales.

While Ms Randle recognised that nursing associates do ‘have a role’ in general practice, she warned that they were often seen as a ‘cheaper alternative’ to GPNs.

The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) recently called for ‘clear guidance’ on the ‘scope and limits’ of nursing associates.

Chief executive of the QNI Dr Crystal Oldman said: ‘We are calling for clarity on the nursing associate scope of practice and guidance for employers, and with increased numbers it is clear that this is urgently needed.

‘The figures show the number of nursing associates in general practice is increasing rapidly.

‘While still a small total number compared to general practice nurses, there will be much work to do in preparing newly qualified nursing associates for their roles in primary care and ensuring there is clarity about the scope of their role, and their responsibilities, supervision and training.’

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