Stark warning of staffing crisis within Suffolk general practice by 2020

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Ipswich Star

Urgent action is being taken to recruit and retain clinicians within GP surgeries in Ipswich and east Suffolk as NHS bosses warn of an impending workforce crisis, the Ipswich Star reports.

If nothing changes, leaders says by 2020 practices in the area will not have enough doctors and nurses to cope with patient demand.

Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has made the stark warning within its latest primary care strategy, which will be discussed at a meeting of the organisation’s governing body next week.

The CCG has vowed to “rigorously pursue” every opportunity to employ and keep hold of medical staff as it contends with an ageing and declining workforce.

In Suffolk and north-east Essex, one fifth of GPs and one third of practice nurses are over the age of 54, and will therefore be retiring in the not-too-distant future.

Nationally, GP consultation rates increased by 40% between 2005 and 2008 and are predicted to rise by a further 35% by 2035.

Meanwhile, funding is depleting.

The CCG has developed an action plan to ensure surgeries can stay afloat.

In order to manage workload more effectively, receptionists across Ipswich and east Suffolk are being trained in ‘care navigation’, where patients calling for a GP appointment will be signposted to other services where appropriate; and surgeries are offering more consultations over the phone and online.

The CCG also wants to find “innovative ways of working within new workforce models with a reduced reliances on GPs”.

Surgeries across the county have started forming super-groups so they can work in closer collaboration, such as Suffolk Primary Care and Deben Health Group.

Dr Mark Shenton, chairman of the CCG, said workforce planning was a top priority and assured the standard of primary health care in Suffolk remained high.

He added: “In Suffolk and across the country there are ongoing challenges of increased demand and recruitment issues as well as limited financial resources.

“This primary care strategy sets out what the CCG has done and plans to do to address these challenges, working with patients and partners to ensure services continue to be safe, effective and meet local needs.”

Suffolk GP Federation has developed a new leadership programme for nurses within primary care in the county, which bosses behind the scheme say will help tackle ongoing issues around recruitment and retention in the profession.

The organisation’s medical director, Paul Driscoll said: “The increasing pressure on primary care and the problems that have been experienced with recruiting GPs are well documented. However, what’s less well known is that there’s just as much of an issue with recruiting nurses. It’s a growing problem and one that we felt had to be addressed.

“Nurses and nurse practitioners are the cornerstone of modern general practice, running most of the chronic disease management, minor illness and health promotion clinics.

“It’s therefore vital that they feel well supported and can recognise their full potential through relevant training and development.

“If we can encourage nurses to stay in the profession then it will reduce pressure in other areas – easing the workload of GPs and other healthcare professionals so they can concentrate on the patients that need them most.”

The development of the nursing workforce within general practice has been identified as a key priority within Suffolk and north-east Essex’s five year plan, which sets out key goals up to 2021.

Amanda Lyes, chief corporate services officer at Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk CCGs, said: “Nurses have an integral role in the delivery of primary care services and it is important they are supported to develop and enhance their skills.

“The introduction of this programme is positive step forward that we hope will help address recruitment issues and give a boost to nursing within GP practices.”

Suffolk GP Federation has also been working with the University of Suffolk to develop learning opportunities in primary care for student nurses who would like to work in a general practice setting.

Sheila Smyth, director of community care services at Suffolk GP Federation, said the majority of student nurses in the county currently spend most of their time training at a hospital, meaning only a handful get to experience life in a GP surgery.

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