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NHS England claims nearly 3,000 practice staff added to reduce GP workload

NHS England claims to have recruited more than half of the 5,000 pharmacists, nurses and other health professionals that were pledged to support the GP workforce by 2020.

Official papers, to be discussed by the NHS England board today, claim that the wider general practice workforce ‘has grown by 2,709 full time equivalents’ between September 2015 and March 2017.

It adds that the bulk of these roles have a ‘direct patient care responsibility’, including 363 mental health therapists and ‘more than 1,000 clinical pharmacists’ – although not all of these have taken up their post yet.

But GP leaders said these programmes were too reliant on one-off pots of money, and without recurrent revenue practices would be ‘back to square one’ with their workforce issues.

And local leaders in some of the areas with the worst GP workforce shortages say they have had more luck attracting GPs from overseas than in recruiting pledged physician associates, pharmacists or mental health workers to share the burden.

The NHS England board paper provides an update on targets outlined in the NHS Five Year Forward View which include expanding the primary care team.

It says: ‘As at the end of March 2017, the wider workforce in general practice has grown by 2,709 FTE since September 2015, putting us over half way to meeting the wider target. The majority of this increase was seen in staff with direct patient care responsibilities (e.g. clinical pharmacists, dispensers and health care assistants).

‘There are now over 1,000 clinical pharmacists confirmed or in post in GP practices. There are also an additional 363 mental health therapists in primary care.

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey acknowledged the figures, but added: ‘I think it is important that we do see a genuine expansion and not a substitution of the workforce, otherwise we will still face the same workload pressures.’

‘So whilst we are supportive of the expansion of the workforce, we must have recurrent funding to enable that to be sustainable. Otherwise we are back to square one again.’

He said a key concern of the BMA was the time-limited funding for the practice pharmacists scheme.

Dr Vautrey said: ‘Whilst the scheme has had some uptake from practices, within two or three years that money will have evaporated, and practices will be left picking up the cost without having recurrent resource to sustain it’.

And Dr Kieran Sharrock, chair of Lincolnshire LMC which pioneered NHS England’s now-expanded programme to recruit 2,000 GPs from overseas, told Pulse: ‘Unfortunately the workforce initiatives in the GPFV will not benefit practices for many years to come.

‘We are fortunate to have recruited 26 GPs with HEE and NHSE support, but there are no physician associates, mental health workers or pharmacists in practice yet in our area.’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledged, in his ‘new deal’ speech in June 2015, that the Government would expand the primary care team by ‘at least 10,000 extra primary care staff – including 5,000 GPs, [plus] practice nurses, district nurses, physician associates and pharmacists’.

A Pulse progress report on these workforce targets in March 2017 found that 491 pharmacists were currently working in roles in practices, though more may have accepted a position.