GPs face looming shortage of practice nurses, warns QNI chief

GPs face a looming shortage of practice nurses because one in three plan to retire by 2020 and new recruits could be put off by the removal of NHS funding for tuition fees, according to the head of a major nursing charity.

DH plans to save £800m by cutting NHS bursaries for nurses’ university tuition fees will have ‘a disproportionate effect on nursing in primary care’, Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) chief executive Crystal Oldman told the Londonwide LMCs annual conference on Wednesday.

Student nurses who begin their studies in September 2017 will be the first to do so without NHS bursaries for tuition fees, and face costs of £27,000 over a three-year course.

Ms Oldman said numbers of nurses taking up primary care training would fall because many start the training when they are ‘a little older, with more life experience’.

Primary care workforce

‘At best we will fill the classrooms with 18-year-old school leavers and at worst there will be empty seats,’ she told the conference.

A fall in nurses taking up primary care training could hit general practice hard, she warned, because findings from a QNI report published earlier this year show that one in three of the current workforce could retire within three years.

The report also found only 35% of practice nurses said they believed their salary reflected their role.

A dramatic increase in the cost of medical indemnity has also undermined the practice nurse workforce, leading to calls for crown indemnity to be extended to practice nurses.

Medical indemnity

The number of negligence claims reported to the Medical Defence Union (MDU), has risen from just two in 2005 to 25 last year, according to the medical indemnity provider.

Delayed diagnosis was the most common issue, featuring in 40% of claims, the MDU data show. Other common reasons included delayed referrals and prescribing errors.

The QNI report highlighted a nurse who reported that her annual indemnity fees - paid by her practice -increased from £695 to £6,700 per year, potentially making her ‘too expensive to insure’.

Ms Oldman was positive about the level of career support offered to nurses in general practice, however. ‘I think GPs get a really bad press about how much support they give to their nurses in terms of their professional development,’ she said. ‘The survey showed 53% reported that their employer always supports their professional development.’

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