Demand for advanced nurse practitioners within the NHS has jumped significantly over recent months, according to market analysis by a health recruitment agency.
The figures add to the growing sense that the current shortage of GPs could provide an opportunity for nurses to take a leading role in designing and running future primary care services.
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MSI Group said that between quarter one and quarter two of 2015 demand for ANPs had risen by 64%, based on its data for hours worked. This compared to hours worked by general nurses, which it said had remained steady.
The agency suggested the spike was a response to GP shortages coupled with NHS restructuring plans focused on more integrated care models based in community settings.
Nurse practitioners were now taking a significantly greater role in the delivery of patient care not only within GP surgeries, but also accident and emergency departments, minor injury units and other out-of-hour’s services, it said.
“Although the use of nurse practitioners has been steadily rising over the past decade, it is only in recent months that we have experienced a real boom in demand”
It added that reforms designed to cut hospital admissions and assist discharge into the community, as outlined in NHS England’s five-year plan the Five Year Forward View, meant responsibilities that were once the preserve of doctors – such as diagnosis, prescribing and referral – were now increasingly being shared with nursing teams.
Nick Simpson, chief executive of MSI Group, said: “Although the use of nurse practitioners has been steadily rising over the past decade, it is only in recent months that we have experienced a real boom in demand.
“The Royal College of General Practitioners has estimated a fourfold increase in unfilled GP posts since 2010, and government proposals to create a ‘truly seven day NHS’ will only exacerbate current shortages,” he said.
“Trusts are responding by bringing on board ANPs to manage existing workload, while simultaneously taking precautions against unnecessary hospital admissions further along the line,” he added.
Mr Simpson noted that ANPs had just one years’ less training than a doctor and had a diverse skillset that included diagnosis, prescribing, and discharge.
“With this in mind, trusts are taking advantage of the cost savings that the use of ANPs can offer, which typically represent a 30% saving when compared to the use of GPs,” he said.
Nursing Times asked the agency for the working hours data that it used to calculate the 64% increase, but it was unwilling to do so, citing “commercial reasons”.
However, the MSI analysis appears to add momentum to other comments made recently about the opportunities for nursing staff in response to the current crisis in the primary care medical workforce.
Managers at a successful nurse-led practice in London told Nursing Times that their service model could be replicated elsewhere as another solution to the GP shortage.
Meanwhile, the greater use of physician associates – previously known as physician assistants – and healthcare assistants was among a raft of recommendations made last week by a major review into the sustainability of the primary care workforce.
The Primary Care Workforce Commission, led by Professor Martin Roland, argued there would be “substantial potential benefits” from a “range of new approaches to staffing”, including greater use of physician associates and healthcare assistants, within GP practices.