Official data has indicated that one in eight practice nurse places in the UK are currently vacant.
A survey in Pulse magazine found that, of 718 GPs who provided full responses, there were 1,881 FTE positions, of which 234.5 positions were unfilled; a vacancy rate of precisely 12.5%.
General practitioners who responded to the survey indicated that the overall figures were very reflective of the experience on the frontline, and that an initiative with the intention of boosting practice numbers is absolutely essential.
Increasingly, the NHS is facing demographic problems, not merely from an ageing population, but also within its own workforce.
Previous reports have warned of a demographic time bomb, whereby many practice nurses are coming to the end of their respective NHS careers.
Meanwhile, it is quite evident that there are insufficient numbers of new practice nurses joining the health service in order to replace those outgoing.
And many believe that this process will get worse still if the government implements its existing plans to ensure that nurses must pay for their own training, rather than receiving a bursary.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse that there are fundamental recruitment problems in the practice nursing echelon of the NHS, and that the issue also extends to GPs as well.
“There is a serious recruitment and retention crisis in general practice nursing as well as for GPs. This just adds to the problems in maintaining services for many practices and leaves other practices staff with unmanageable workloads. It’s linked to the historic failure to invest in primary care nurse training including the failure to fund training grants to training practices, as well as the longstanding focus on secondary care nursing at the expense of primary and community care nursing recruitment. Urgent steps have to be taken to tackle this serious problem.”
GP vacancy rates are also known to be at their highest rate however, with a similar level of unfilled posts to nurses across the health service.
Dr Peter Swinyard, chairman of the Family Doctor Association, warned that the situation with practice nurses is liable to get worse before it gets better, and called on the government to take urgent recruitment action in order to plug the NHS gulf.
“GP practices are going to lose a shedload of practice nurses in their fifties over the next five years just due to natural retirement’. He said that HEE should develop a more organised career structure for nurses, including postgraduate training for nurses who want to work in general practices.”
However, the government points to efforts made already to increase the number of nurses and doctors resident in the health service.
The authorities claimed that there were 18,432 more NHS nurses in 2014 compared to ten years earlier, and that he number has increased by an annual average of 0.5 per cent over that period.