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Practice admin staff to be retrained as healthcare assistants under new plans

A health board in Scotland is considering retraining practice admin staff previously working on the QOF as healthcare assistants to ease GP workload.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran put forward the proposal as part of a host of measures to combat a shortfall in GP numbers.

A workforce planning exercise predicted that over the next seven years 109 new full-time GPs would need to be recruited in the region to replace those retiring or leaving the profession and to meet rising demand.

With training places currently unfilled, that level of recruitment is ‘unrealistic’, a report published by the director of health and social care points out.

Yetthere is an opportunity to redesign locally to support practices to respond to this workload’, it says, by utilising other professionals and allowing GPs to focus on the most complex patients.

The report, put together after discussions with the LMC and primary care team, states that ’the removal of administration activity related to QOF’ could mean an opportunity to retrain existing admin staff to take up healthcare assistant or other caring roles.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran confirmed that a scoping exercise is being done on the potential of supporting practices to retrain staff in this way.

Other recommendations in the report – which found a 22% increase in the number of consultations in the past five years – included wider use of pharmacists, optometrists and advanced nurse practitioners.

The QOF is to be abolished in Scotland from April 2017 with the aim of reducing bureaucracy and freeing up GP time.

Dr Alan McDevitt, BMA Scotland’s GP chair said a key benefit of the removal of QOF will be that individual practices could reallocate resources and staff time.

’In the longer term, we want to see a wider primary healthcare team that means patients will be seen by the healthcare professional that is best placed to meet their particular needs, and within that healthcare assistants have a role to play,’ he said.

’Having a wider team in place can relieve some of the workload pressure GPs are facing, by giving GPs the time they need to be GPs and to deal with those patients with the most complex care needs.”

Dr Iain Kennedy, vice chair Highland LMC, said he had heard of the idea – although it had not yet been proposed in his area – but said it was not unusual for reception staff to develop careers as healthcare assistants.

’Since QOF was dismantled our admin staff at my practice who were working on QOF have been re-deployed into doing different data entry work – thereby freeing up the doctors.

’They are as busy as ever, but doing different things,” he said.

A paper commissioned by NHS Employees earlier this year said training non-medical staff to do the work of doctors could be a ‘rapid solution’ for the workforce crisis.

The Nuffield Trust called for the Health Education England budget to be protected, and for increased training for existing NHS staff in non-medical roles, citing this as ’a cost-effective and rapid solution to mitigating some of the pressures on more senior staff.’