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General practice nursing is vital to our cherished NHS

General practice nursing is vital to our cherished NHS

The NHS has always been be something to be proud of, but is this still the case? Nursing is a vital part of attempts to reverse the perilous position that health services in the UK are now in

Key aspects of the UK’s history and tradition have come into focus with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. We now have a King, as well as a new Prime Minister, and much has been said during this transition in praise of our nation, what we’ve achieved and what we should look to preserve. The UK does have a lot to be proud of.

Of course, one of our most cherished institutions is the National Health Service, which saw so many changes during the Queen’s life. With a new health secretary bringing the chance for a fresh look at the health sector, now is the time to regroup and think hard about resourcing. How can we strengthen the NHS for the longer term? And in the shorter term, how can we get through the winter ahead? Our health services are under unprecedented strain. 

Practice nurses have already embarked on what is expected to be an extremely busy autumn and winter, coming on top of a brutal summer workload as well as the ongoing backlog of care. Our autumn cover feature examines those challenges. The flu and Covid vaccination programmes, central to the NHS response this winter, come amid a cost-of-living crisis and predicted energy shortages that will put enormous stress on the most vulnerable patients. The holistic skills of nurses will be crucial in determining primary care’s ability to help those patients through the winter, and a vital part of the support system for our wider communities. Nursing resource in care homes and elsewhere in primary care will be equally important, as hospital beds need to be freed up to allow admissions. 

But is the capacity there in general practice nursing to meet these challenges? Despite ministers’ claims, vacancy rates continue to get worse. Government statistics – which don’t include practice nurse vacancies by the way – show nursing vacancies have leapt by a further fifth, from 38,972 in March to 46,828 in June. More people are joining the register, but cannot keep pace with the numbers leaving it.  This is something that must be addressed urgently, with effective retention also a priority.

Practice nursing is a fundamental part of the success of general practice and the new PM and her health secretary would do well to grasp what is happening in this part of our profession. We need a firm plan to encourage recruitment in general practice, to ensure the longevity of the service of which we are rightly so proud. 

Carolyn Scott is editor of Nursing in Practice. Follow her on Twitter

Look out for the autumn edition of Nursing in Practice, which leads on the work that nurses have been doing to prepare for the challenges of this winter. 

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