The General Practice Forward View has failed to set a target for practice nurse recruitment, despite pledging to invest more into the workforce.
The plans outlined by NHS England, reveal that general practice will receive £2.4 billion in extra funding. As part of the investment, practice nurse development will receive £15 million. This will be used to improve training capacity, recruiting and retaining, and encouraging nurses to return to practice.
But while there were clear employment targets set for other primary care staff, such as 5000 more GPs, 1500 more pharmacists, and 3000 mental health therapists in the next five years, there was no figure placed on the amount of practice nurses that would be actively recruited.
While the move has been welcomed by the RCN, some concerns remain on exactly how the money will be used.
‘There is an opportunity for us to clarify exactly how they’re going to boost those numbers and how that’s going to look going forward with the investment of an extra £15million nationally for practice nurse development,’ said Kathryn Yates, the RCN’s new professional lead for primary care nursing, speaking exclusively to Independent Nurse. ‘There is some kind of fleshing out to do in terms of how they are going to increase training capacity, and increasing numbers of pre-reg nurses.'
However, Candice Imison, director of healthcare systems at the Nuffield Trust, suggested that there should not be a specific target for the nursing workforce. ‘We have underpinned our nursing workforce – traditionally – from international sources, and as things change overseas, people who have come here may well go back again.
She said that creates an argument for an active policy to oversupply nurses. 'We should not try to land the jumbo jet on a pin, which is traditionally what we have tried to do in workforce planning and inevitably come unstuck.’
A recent report by the House of Commons Health Select Committee, released on the same day as the General Practice Forward View raised concerns about the ageing practice nurse workforce. The HSCIC has also published figures which show that of the 15,398 strong practice nurse workforce, 7.2% of practice nurses with a known age were under 35 years old, 2.6% were under 30, and 31% were aged 55 and over.
The Health Select Committee report recommended the creation of a workforce development plan for primary care nurses, to be devised by the RCN, HEE and NHS England. According to the Committee, this should include plans for reforms to undergraduate training, incentivising nurses to enter primary care, and helping former nurses to return to practice.
The report also suggested that establishing recommended pay and conditions similar to Agenda for Change, would help keep nurses in primary care, as issues with consistency of pay rates may lead nurses to choose to work in acute settings.