The staffing crisis in the nursing workforce threatens to undermine new plans announced by Health Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Therese Coffey, the RCN has said.
Ms Coffey set out her expectation that everyone who needs one should get an appointment at a GP practice within 2 weeks – and that the patients with the most urgent needs should be seen within the same day.
The plan will include changing funding rules to recruit extra support staff so general practices can focus on treating patients – freeing up over one million appointments per year, as well as more state-of-the art telephone systems to make it easier for patients to get through to their GP surgeries. There will also be more information available for patients, with appointments data published at a practice level for the first time ever.
"Nursing staff provide the majority of patient care and we're concerned that, when it comes to making care safer, this announcement appears to be lacking. There is a staffing crisis in an overloaded system and it is putting patients at risk. Another callout for volunteers will look panicked and ill-considered,’ said RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen.
‘The health secretary’s plan is also at odds with recent research that found the best way to improve patient satisfaction with GP care is to train up nurses you already have, such as in diabetes prevention. Yet, the basic issue, which these plans do not address, is that we don’t have enough nursing staff.’
Under the new plans, pharmacies will help ease pressures on GPs and free up time for appointments by managing and supplying more medicines such as contraception without a GP prescription, which could free up to 2 million general practice appointments a year, and taking referrals from emergency care for minor illnesses or symptoms, such as a cough, headache or sore throat.
‘I will put a laser-like focus on the needs of patients, making their priorities my priorities and being a champion for them on the issues that affect them most,’ said Ms Coffey.
‘Our plan will make it easier to get a general practice appointment and we will work tirelessly to deliver that, alongside supporting our hardworking GP teams. We know this winter will be tough and this is just the first step in our work to bolster our valued NHS and social care services so people can get the care they need.’