There’s no denying that general practice nurses are the bedrock of the health and care system and they are central to the way it operates. They are often the first person that people see when they begin their journey through the system.
What many people do not appreciate is the knowledge base and skill level that are required to be a general practice nurse. It is not an easy job; it requires additional post-registration training and qualifications. In other words, it’s hard to be a specialist in a broad range of subjects.
The responses to the Queen’s Nursing Institute survey from May 2020 come as no surprise to RCN general practice nursing colleagues. Our members report employment terms and working conditions that are far below those of their NHS colleagues. For example, RCN members report lack of occupational sick pay for ill health and minimal maternity pay, as well as poor working conditions, which is unacceptable given they provide essential frontline NHS services.
This cannot be allowed to continue. RCN will always demand fair pay, good terms and safe and healthy working conditions for general practice nurses and health care assistants commensurate with their professional skills, knowledge, and experience and with other nursing colleagues working across the NHS. GPNs must be treated the same as their colleagues in the NHS.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made the public more aware of the importance of GPNs. At a time when people were being asked to stay away from A&E, they could rely on their practice nurse for treatment of things like minor injuries and advice on health conditions. In many cases, they may have saved the patients from an unnecessary trip to A&E.
During this pandemic, nurses in primary care have continued to provide essential face to face services such as cervical cytology, childhood immunisation and chronic disease management. This year they have also run the largest seasonal flu programme ever commissioned.
Now that the Covid-19 vaccination programme is being rolled out, GPNs are leading the way again, drawing on their extensive knowledge and experience in leading and managing immunisation programmes.
Although general practice nursing has seen an increase in practitioners, they continue to be an aging workforce and are seeing an increasing workload as more services move out into primary care. They deserve the pay and working conditions to reflect that.
The government must provide significant investment to help recruit more people into the general practice specialism while also retaining the experienced workforce we have.
Only by giving the proper recognition they deserve will we be able to attract nurses into general practice and build a health and care system fit for the care patients need.