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Concerns raised about ageing practice nurse workforce

A “frightening” crisis in practice nursing could be on the horizon in the East of England, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.

The warning was sparked by research showing the overwhelming majority of practice nurses in the region are aged over 40.

With an increased workload and growing demands for community based care, the RCN said primary care could struggle to provide care unless action was taken.

A survey of 90 practice nurses across Eastern England was carried out by the RCN during August and September.

It found 98% of respondents were aged over 40, of which 42% were aged 40-49, 48% were 50-59 and 8% were 60-69.

Karen Webb, RCN director for the Eastern region, said: “At the very heart of the health reforms and the NHS plans to save £20bn by 2015 is the shift of patient care from hospitals and into primary care.

“Our research shows, however, that will be very difficult to achieve when practice nurses are struggling with a growing workload and are getting closer to retirement age.

“The fact that only 2% of practice nurses are under the age of 40 is frightening,” she added. “Unless steps are taken to recruit new practice nurses and address this demographic issue, primary care will really struggle to provide care.”

RCN Eastern primary care adviser Kellie Norris said: “Clinical commissioners need to seriously consider the future of practice nursing as there is a real issue with both the age of the current workforce and also the level of training that practice nurses have.”

The survey also found three quarters of practice nurses worked part-time and the majority, 98%, were female. Only 24% of practice nurses were trained to degree level.

There were some distinct positive findings as well. Around two thirds of respondents said they were able to deliver the level of care they wished and a similar number said they had time to complete continuing professional development.

Readers' comments (16)

  • Look at the adverts for Practice Nurses. They almost all require the applicant to be experienced in Practice Nursing and to possess several certificates in areas that are only relevant in GP practice work. ( and therefore not likely to be possessed by nurses with other experience and qualifications). Practices need to be prepared to open their doors and offer training to nurses with other experience. It will enrich the quality and experience of the Practice Nurse pool in this country.

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  • tinkerbell

    'struggle to provide care unless action was taken'

    What action and by whom?

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  • a 40 year old nurse still has at least 20 years of working to look forward to. as someone has sensibly pointed out you need a lot of experience and extra training to become a practice nurse so it's not going to attract NQs.

    I think the word 'frightening' is rather over the top, nurses are not to blame for the potential shortage in the workforce (in any setting). It's not of our making and it would be nice if someone in this article could have actually said something positive about us oldies and thanked us for our dedicated hard work over many many years.

    of course there are not going to be enough nurses in the future when us crumblies fall off our perches because no-one wants to take up nursing because it is a shite job wherever you work.

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  • Michael Whitehead

    I agree with anonymous 1. Practices need to open their doors to younger nurses, not requiring bags of experience. Younger nurses can have a lot of experience. Perhaps a degree of ont-the-job training could be offered as a way of including the younger nurses who may not have as much experience as older ones.

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  • This situation is not unique to Eastern England, it exists country wide. I have been a practice nurse for over 20yrs and have been trying to highlight this issue with GP's and PCT's for years.Part of the problem is the fact that practice nurses are employed directly by GP's and as such have to negotiate their own pay, terms and conditions. Not all GP's subscribe to Agenda for Change! Due to the fact that practice nurses are directly employed in this way, no GP's are willing to take on less experienced nurses and train them up. It costs them money to do so and their concern is that the nurse may then move on to another practice with the skills they have paid for.We need a system of renumeration for GP's similar to that of medical students of which there is an abundant supply. We also need a structured learning programme for nurses who wish to enter general practice and make use of the existing very experienced practice nurses as mentors. If this is not addressed in the near future there is no way the NHS will achieve its aim of shifting a lot of care into the primary setting. Regardless of the 'years left' in existing practice nurses.

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  • I have been in General Practice for 33 years first as a Practice Nurse and during the past 20 years as a Nurse Practitioner. I am in my late 60s now and still love the job. However, when I first started training was available in all the areas covered by PNs whereas now it is much more difficult to find training programmes for the less qualified PN and even harder to get funding. Most of the experienced PNs in my area (Sussex) are in their 50s and will retire within the next 10 years or so - we have known this for a long time but still no action has been taken either by the GPs themselves who don't want to pay out of their pockets for training or the PCTs who don't offer much support to us as a group. We need to return to structured training programme as already suggested - I attended the first Practice Nurse course held in Brighton many years ago and found this an invaluable baseline upon which to add to my skills.

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  • I find that some nurses these days wear too much makeup, wear unironed uniforms and some even have tattoos on show which to me is more off putting than being over weight.

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  • As a Nurse of 55 years with 36 years full time experience (20 in Community) and a Masters degree in Advanced Practice but still with another 11 years before I am eligible for my state Pension of course I am going to continue working - albeit 3 days per week instead of full time.
    How else am i supposed to survive and pay ever increasing bills? As it is I came down a grade when going into general practice!

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  • nurses retire, as does every other person in the country - time to get a grip on reality.

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  • I am delighted that I have a student nurse in my practice with me for 4 weeks-we have worked long and hard to get student nurses into practice and TA DAH we have-brilliant-make sure you are doing the same too then they can see what we do and why we love it!!

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  • I don't worry about such things, my little rolator frame will be handy for hanging the drug-charts on when I shuffle round giving out the meds.

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  • Bugger me! I'm just about to reach 65yr and I was hoping to 'return to nursing' to help you out a bit, because you certainly need some, but you're implying I'm past my sell by????

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  • tinkerbell

    Iama Cynic | 24-Nov-2012 12:15 pm

    No come back, there's at least another 20 years of work we can wring out of you!

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  • Cheers! Tinkerbell. I'm still quite fit and active, and haven't forgotten any of my basic nurse training skills; yes, I used to ensure all bed ridden patients were fed, watered and turned at regular intervals etc., to prevent pressure sores developing - Although not very popular with my nursing colleagues and subordinates, who, blindly believed it was a patient's, ''right'', to refuse such care, and thus couldn't be bothered to offer their patients these forms of interventions, on the basis it was some kind of ''infringement'' on their ''independence - so you couldwell be right?

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  • What do the DofH expect?? Most nurses I know of my age are aghast at the prospect of continuing until age 67 and beyond. At 55 I am astounded that the health service has deteriorated so much and starved of training funding that I am in demand when recently newly qualified (within 5 yrs) are struggling on band 5 doing the work of higher bands due to cuts. AND paying back student loans and trying to keep body and soul together. And it will get worse after this nurse unfriendly millionaire government have finished.
    I do no of a couple of younger nurses working in practice who are slowly gaining experience through day courses etc, but the pay is not as good as shift work in a hospital, and many cannot take the pay cut.
    Most practice work is mundane; treatment nurse work is boring, chronic disease management is largely for the province of nurses who have done the courses but is very repetitive, and in smaller practices even phlebotomy. Many GP practices now employ auxilliaries who can do much of this work and are cheaper. It is all about number crunching and getting people in and out quickly in a timely manner so they get maximum QOF points than therapeutic treatment. Practices have been forced to take on many more patients than they can cope with after the enormous population growth largely from European countries; coupled with the increasing lack of ability of the population to deal with minor illness' and successive governments' message that the patient can have everything 24/7.
    I work for a single handed GP who is lovely, (we are the same age but he will retire years before me ), I am an advanced nurse practitioner at masters level and also work in Out of Hours, but there is little scope to train someone up. This millionaire government is hell bent on getting rid of small practices and turning everything into 'enterprises' which they can sell off to their pals in big business. So unless you have a burning desire to not work shifts or weekends, and do largely mundane work (that resembles peace work with humans), dont be in too much of a hurry to get into practice work, it is not necessarily an easy option. Most younger, vibrant, nurses I know get bored very quickly and look to go back into acute care or a in hospital specialism.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • What do the DofH expect?? Most nurses I know of my age are aghast at the prospect of continuing until age 67 and beyond. At 55 I am astounded that the health service has deteriorated so much and starved of training funding that I am in demand when recently newly qualified (within 5 yrs) are struggling on band 5 doing the work of higher bands due to cuts. AND paying back student loans and trying to keep body and soul together. And it will get worse after this nurse unfriendly millionaire government have finished.
    I do no of a couple of younger nurses working in practice who are slowly gaining experience through day courses etc, but the pay is not as good as shift work in a hospital, and many cannot take the pay cut.
    Most practice work is mundane; treatment nurse work is boring, chronic disease management is largely for the province of nurses who have done the courses but is very repetitive, and in smaller practices even phlebotomy. Many GP practices now employ auxilliaries who can do much of this work and are cheaper. It is all about number crunching and getting people in and out quickly in a timely manner so they get maximum QOF points than therapeutic treatment. Practices have been forced to take on many more patients than they can cope with after the enormous population growth largely from European countries; coupled with the increasing lack of ability of the population to deal with minor illness' and successive governments' message that the patient can have everything 24/7.
    I work for a single handed GP who is lovely, (we are the same age but he will retire years before me ), I am an advanced nurse practitioner at masters level and also work in Out of Hours, but there is little scope to train someone up. This millionaire government is hell bent on getting rid of small practices and turning everything into 'enterprises' which they can sell off to their pals in big business. So unless you have a burning desire to not work shifts or weekends, and do largely mundane work (that resembles peace work with humans), dont be in too much of a hurry to get into practice work, it is not necessarily an easy option. Most younger, vibrant, nurses I know get bored very quickly and look to go back into acute care or a in hospital specialism.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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