Hearing about the plight of general practice and the high numbers of patients seen daily is now so commonplace it has become merely a fact of how the NHS works today.
However, we hear much less about the associated pressure that general practice nurses are under. Is this because nursing bodies are less vocal? Quite possibly. Afterall, the RCN still doesn't have a primary care advisor. Or is it because nurses aren't being called on to contribute to general practice patient loads in a way that fulfills their potential to reduce the burden? There have certainly been suggestions from some GPs that if nurses were given the opportunity to better contribute, for example ANPs see patients while the GPs focus on the more complex cases, practices could be more efficiently managed and the burden on GPs could be reduced.
There are a number of reasons why patients are swamping general practice, and nurses are well placed to alleviate some of them.
More and more people are developing long-term conditions. The news that the number of adults with pre-diabetes has trebled since 2003 must have filled those working in general practice with a sense of doom. Predictions are that by April 2015 the average waiting time to see a GP will be two weeks.
However, practice nurses have been credited with helping to increase the numbers of patients attending for NHS Health Checks, which can identify patients at risk of developing diabetes at an earlier stage. And nurses can educate patients on what does and doesn't require a practice visit, to minimise the numbers of appointments requested for everyday minor illnesses.
Upskilling practice staff, from healthcare assistants to ANPs, and encouraging nurses in practice to educate patients, will help general practice become a service that can function in the NHS of today.