Rise of the 'new practice nurse'
By Anna Hodgekiss
Every practice will have a health care assistant within a decade, say leaders of a Government skill-mix initiative.
The rise of assistants will mirror that of the practice nurse during the 1980s, freeing up GPs to have a more consultative role, predict advisers to the NHS Working in Partnership Programme.
The programme – established under the new GMS contract to tackle workload and capacity issues in general practice – is piloting the role of assistants in five areas. The move is part of a drive to encourage more assistants into surgeries to undertake duties such as new patient checks, phlebotomy and blood pressure measurements.
Former GPC chair Dr John Chisholm, an adviser to the programme, said: 'There are already several hundred health care assistants working in primary care, but this will increase dramatically in the next few years. Within 10 years it will be the norm.'
His comments came as the programme launched a new toolkit designed to ensure health care assistants have a basic standard of competency to work in general practice.
Sheila Dilks, professional nurse adviser to the primary care team at the Department of Health, told Pulse: 'We are already seeing increasing numbers of health care assistants in general practice, who play a valuable role in helping to deliver the quality and outcomes framework.'
She said the degree of responsibility taken by health care assistants would be at the discretion of individual practices.
Dr Simon Fradd, a GP in Nottingham and a member of the programme's advisory board, said there was a huge drive towards recruiting health care assistants to create a better skills mix in general practice.
'With so many GPs retiring in the next few years, it is ridiculous to use the remaining ones to do blood pressure checks and patient recalls. Health care assistants are phenomenally cost-
effective and will allow GPs to have a consultancy role in the practice,' he said.
Dr Martyn Walling, a GP in Boston, Lincolnshire, said his practice found health care assistants invaluable. 'Not only is it a good economic decision, but GPs need more nursing staff now we have so many targets to achieve. Health care assistants are the future, providing they are rigorously trained and mentored by practice nurses.'