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Impending practice nurse retirements present ‘significant issue’ in Essex

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General practices in North East Essex are set to lose a third of their nurses through retirement in the next five years, documents reveal.

The exodus will leave the surgeries in Colchester and Tendring with a “significant issue”, because they heavily rely on practice nurses to deliver services, local health chiefs have warned.

“General practice nurses play a crucial role in delivering a quality service”

Brigid-Ann Lord

They said 33% of the primary care nurses in the area – representing a headcount of 45 – were aged 54 and over and, therefore, preparing for retirement over the next five years.

As a result, urgent action was being taken to boost recruitment of general practice nurses to avoid a workforce blackhole in the future.

Details were revealed in the latest board papers for NHS North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group’s GP committee (see attached).

The CCG report said: “Data shows 33% of our nursing workforce will be retiring in the next five years and this will lead to a significant issue for North East Essex practices.”

It added that reliance on the nursing workforce in primary care was “significant” in North East Essex and, as a result, the CCG listed the upcoming retirements as an “issue for monitoring”.

The document noted that, while the area had a ”gap between actual and planned number of GPs within its workforce”, it had already exceeded its 2020 target for non-medical staff in employment. 

Brigid-Ann Lord, senior officer covering Hertfordshire, West Essex and Mid Essex at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “General practice nurses play a crucial role in delivering a quality service in primary care and deserve greater recognition for the care and service they provide.

“This will lead to a significant issue for North East Essex practices”

CCG papers 

“The Royal College of Nursing has long been raising issues regarding gaps in our nursing workforce, in primary care and elsewhere,” she said. “This is also affected by large numbers retiring or leaving the profession for other reasons.”

Ms Lord highlighted that the RCN was calling for the government to boost investment in nurse education through its Fund Our Future campaign.

However, she recognised that, while this would help future workforce demands, action was also needed now to encourage nurses into general practice.

In a bid to fill the forthcoming void, the CCG, which represents 37 surgeries, has embarked on a recruitment campaign targeting GP nurses through its new Essex Primary Care Careers website.

The report noted that there had been a “large number” of nurses from other fields such as community and acute applying for roles in general practice.

To help these nurses convert more easily, a new training package has been introduced.

“North-east Essex locality training hub has identified a large number of non-practice nurses applying for practice nurse roles; these are experienced nurses which will be moving fields into primary care,” the report said.

“A training package has been developed to support this project and enables us to have a training programme that supports nurses coming into practice and will also over time ensure anyone describing themselves as a practice nurse in North East Essex has undertaken a standardised training programme,” it added.

A spokesman for North East Essex CCG highlighted that it was not the only area struggling with an ageing workforce, noting that the national average was 35% of practice nurses over the age of 54.

He said that, as well as the recruitment campaign and training package noted in the report, the organisation was also engaging with the nursing workforce through events and networking, career and job fairs and universities.

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