More than a quarter of general practice nursing and GP posts in England could be vacant in 10 years without ‘urgent’ and ‘significant’ policy change, the Health Foundation has warned.
Research, published today from the charity’s Research and Economic Analysis for the Long term (REAL) centre, projected that the current shortfall of around 1,700 full-time (FTE) equivalent practice nurses in 2021/22 will grow to around 6,400 FTE – over one in four posts – by 2030/31.
This shortfall could reach 10,100 vacancies – close to one in two posts – in a decade under a more ‘pessimistic’ scenario where more nurses leave and newer roles such as pharmacists and nursing associates are not successfully integrated into multidisciplinary general practice teams.
In addition, GP shortages are projected to get ‘substantially worse’, growing from a shortfall of 4,200 FTE vacant posts currently to around 10,700 in 2030/31, relative to the number needed to meet the expected higher need for care.
This projected shortfall could increase to 20,400 FTE GPs – or around half of posts – in 2030/31, if more GPs leave and new posts are not successfully integrated.
However, the Health Foundation argued the projected vacancy rate could also be limited to around 3,300 GPs (one in ten posts) by 2030/31 if the Government improves recruitment and retention of GPs, and recruits more allied health professionals to reduce pressure on GPs and nurses.
Anita Charlesworth, director of research and at the REAL centre, described it as ‘sobering’ that ‘things are set to get worse’ and ‘not better’ over the next decade within England’s GP services.
She called on the Government to take ‘action to protect general practice and avoid it getting locked in a vicious cycle of rising workload driving staff to leave, in turn creating more pressure on remaining staff and fuelling even more departures’.
She continued: ‘Action is urgently needed to retain existing GPs and practice nurses, and to ensure that sufficient numbers are trained for the future.’
Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, called on NHS England and partners to act on the Fuller stocktake recommendations to address challenges shared by general practice an other health services, such as by establishing ‘teams of teams’ in each neighbourhood’.
She added: ‘There is also work to be done in addressing gaps in practice nursing – for example, putting community-based training into core curriculums for nurse training and supporting practice-based staff to share NHS-wide terms and conditions.’
This comes after the Government said earlier this year that it is on track to achieve its target of 50,000 more nurses by March 2024, although groups such as nurses in general practice and health visitors have not seen improvements.