NHS set to boost GP workforce ahead of winter

Thousands more staff will be recruited to new roles in General Practice, so family doctors’ time can be freed up to see more patients during winter, the NHS has announced today.

More than one thousand GP assistants will be recruited to practices from this month to offer more admin support with the roles already proven to reduce the time GPs spend on tasks such as writing letters by more than two-fifths.

GP assistants will be trained to do blood pressure checks, heart rate and blood tests as well as arranging appointments, referrals and follow-up care for patients.

Local areas will also recruit up to 1,250 digital and transformation leads across the country to help improve patient access to primary care.

There will be a digital lead in each primary care network (PCN), who can make sure practices are using the latest technology to offer more telephone lines, monitor their call response times or offer support with the NHS app which, from November, will help patients review their test results.

Like other parts of the NHS, GPs are experiencing record demand, with the latest figures up to July showing around 11 million more routine appointments carried out in 2022 compared to the same period last year.

The General Practice workforce has increased by 19,000 since 2019 – ahead of the Government target of recruiting 26,000 staff by 2024, including building multi-professional teams who offer patients a wide range of care.

The number of advanced practitioners working in practices will be doubled to up to 2,500 in England – they are clinical professionals such as pharmacists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists who can offer patients more specialist care within the General Practice team.

This is among a package of NHS measures to prepare for winter, including ramping up bed capacity and increasing the number of 999 and NHS 111 staff to deal with any additional pressure.

Dr Amanda Doyle, national director of primary and community care, said: “Giving patients timely and convenient access to GPs and primary care is vital, especially during winter, which is why we are introducing brand new roles and giving GPs more flexibility to create teams that best meet the needs of their local population.

“NHS staff have worked incredibly hard to deliver record numbers of GP appointments for patients, with 11 million more this year so far than the same period last year, and more than four in five people who book an appointment seen within two weeks, including two fifths who are seen on the same day.

“The introduction of GP assistants can reduce the time doctors spend on correspondence by up to 85%, while also carrying out basic clinical tasks such as taking patients’ blood pressure and heart rate, meaning doctors have more time to do what they care about most – treating patients – while digital leads will help practices use the latest technology to manage demand and capacity”.

The NHS is transforming the General Practice workforce to meet rising demand, with studies showing that more than a quarter of appointments could be carried out by other professionals, replaced by self-care, or were not needed at all.

Hundreds of thousands have been given access to blood pressure monitors as part of work to empower people to stay well at home, with the rollout in Dorset almost halving the number of GP appointments for hypertension.

The NHS is simplifying funding arrangements so nursing associates can train to become registered nurses in general practice, meaning they can see more complex patients, and focus on people who need long-term care.

Case study: Swan Medical Centre, Birmingham

Swan Medical Practice in Birmingham introduced the role of a General Practice Assistant (GPA) at their practice to support GPs with the significant amount of admin they have to complete.

GP, Dr Ubogu said: “Our General Practice Assistant has reduced the amount of time that I have to spend reviewing and actioning patient forms, saving up to 30 minutes per form in some cases, which is valuable time I can now spend with patients in clinic.”

The General Practice Assistant also provides some clinical support within the practice, including running phlebotomy clinics, taking patients’ blood pressure, and performing ECG tests. This allows for patients to get the care they need sooner, as tests can be carried out by another member of the GP team, other than the GP.

Sonia Rai completed her GPA training in October 2021 and then took on the role of GPA at the practice. She commented that: “Training to be a General Practice Assistant is a brilliant opportunity to grow in general practice.”