Practice nurse posts cut as pay freeze bites

Nurses and admin staff numbers down for second year running, salaried GP numbers rising.

Numbers of practice nurses and administrative staff have fallen for the second year running, as the rest of the NHS reports record staffing levels.

Data collected by the NHS Information Centre found the number of practice nurses in England fell 3.6 per cent to 22,000 between September 2007 and September 2008.

The number of GP practice staff also fell over the same period, down 2.2 per cent to 94,000.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey blamed the fall on successive years of below-inflation pay awards.

'It is because practice income is falling. Practices have not been able to plan for the future. Taking on staff is a risky business if you are unsure what expenses you can afford,' he added.

A GP survey earlier this year revealed a quarter of practices had been forced to cut staff due to falling profits and rising expenses. A fifth of those cuts involved practice nurses.

'It will continue until we can stabilise the GP contract and build some confidence,' said Dr Vautrey.

GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman warned that practices may find it harder to generate income if they cut staff.

The rest of the NHS has seen an increase in virtually all categories of staff. The total number of NHS staff rose 2.8 per cent between 2007 and 2008.

The number of salaried GPs continued to rise, up 10.6 per cent from 6,022 in 2007 to 6,663 in 2008, while the number of partners stayed roughly the same.

Dr Vautrey said this was no surprise, but added: 'I suspect that over time we will see more practices realise that it is worth employing GPs as principals.'

While the total number of GPs has increased, the number of GP practices has dropped, falling from more than 9,000 in 1998 to 8,230 in 2008.

Dr Buckman said this was a direct effect of the DoH's preference for larger surgeries.

tom.ireland@haymarket.com

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