Commons inquiry must tackle '20-year demographic timebomb' in practice nursing

Politicians should consider a new agreement on pay and conditions for general practice nurses with levers to push practices to implement it, a primary care nursing leader has warned.

Practice nurse: workforce crisis (Photo: iStock)
Practice nurse: workforce crisis (Photo: iStock)

NHS Alliance chair and Queen’s nurse Heather Henry called on the House of Commons health select committee to address the GP workforce crisis in its forthcoming inquiry into the nursing shortage, warning that a '20-year demographic timebomb' had come to a head in practice nursing.

Pay for practice nurses had fallen behind NHS bandings, forcing staff to switch practices to secure pay rises, she added and wide variation remained between contracts for nurses at different practices.

The newly-elected health select committee chaired by former GP and Conservative MP for Torbay Dr Sarah Wollaston announced on Wednesday that it will examine the nursing shortage in its first inquiry. The committee said it would look at accountability for workforce planning and the effect of new routes into nursing.

Patient services

GPC executive workforce lead Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said the workforce shortage was hindering practices’ ability to provide enough appointments and the level of service patients need. MPs, he said should consider the ‘decade-long period of underinvestment’ in GP services, which the government has not corrected, as well as the speed of promised workforce expansion which is 'too slow and piecemeal’.

Ms Henry said MPs should consider NHS England’s 10-point plan for practice nursing published in July and how that should be supported. The plan includes measures to boost the workforce and promote practice nursing, support existing practice nurses with training and mentoring and encourage them to return to practice.

There had, she added, been a 'mismatch' between what practices do and what nursing leaders want ever since the workforce reimbursement was subsumed into the contract global sum. 'So, what is it we can put into the GP contract?' she said.

There could, she suggested, be incentives for practices to take on nursing training. Forcing nurses to move practices to secure increases in pay was 'not a good way to plan the nursing workforce', she said.

Practice nurse pay

The NHS Alliance chair suggested a standardised agreement on pay, terms and conditions for practice nurses should be considered - warning that terms and conditions were a variable today as they were 20 years ago.

'The requirement to have a clearly set out job description, competency framework, and a contract of employment is still variable.'

Ms Henry added that there needed to be a 'lever or incentive' for practices to implement the changes required. The health committee has invited written submissions by 12 October and expected to hear oral evidence in November.

A poll by the Queen's Nursing Institute last year found that two thirds of practice nurses believed they were underpaid and one in three planned to leave the profession within five years.

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