All eyes are on the GPs. A recent BMA survey has shown that, frustrated by workload and lack of time to spend with patients, a quarter of GPs are thinking of working part-time, one in 10 would like to move abroad and 34% are considering retiring in the next five years. The mainstream media, politicians and doctors themselves have all run with this, leading the public to believe that GPs are the be all and end all of primary care (PC).
Yet nothing has been said about the looming retirement bulge in practice nursing or the difficulty in recruiting younger nurses into practice and community nursing. Politicians in their pre-election fervor have been trying to outdo each other with how many extra GPs they would create in the next parliament. No-one, except for nurses, seems to have cottoned on to the difficulty that a lack of PC nurses will create in delivering the much talked about eight till eight, seven-days-a-week services promised by Mr Cameron. Despite practice nurses doing 40% of the work in general practice, not one politician has specifically pledged to increase nurses in primary care.
The RCN's most recent Frontline First report, The fragile frontline, highlighted that although the number of student nurse places has increased it is still lower than in 2009 despite the number of applicants increasing massively. It called on the next government to urgently explore increasing student nursing commissions. As practice and community nurses are fully trained in less than half the time of a GP, this could help deliver PC services and alleviate the workload. The success of the push on health visitor numbers shows what can be achieved once something enters the government's agenda.