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Only half of GP practice employees report having sufficient staffing levels

by Rima Evans
1 July 2024

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Just half – 49% –  of GP practice staff think there are enough people in their teams to cope with the current workload, a survey has revealed.

And only a similar proportion (52%) have said they can see themselves still working at their current practice in five years’ time.

In terms of staff wellbeing, these two issues have received the lowest positive scores, analysis from staff surveys carried out in 173 GP practices between spring 2022 and autumn 2023 has shown.

The survey carried out by Qualitas, a healthcare advisory and training orgnsation, received 3,278 respondents from workers in more than 10 different roles including practice managers; GPs (partnered, salaried and locums); non-clinical partners, practice nurses, pharmacists, admin and reception staff, paramedics as well other clinical staff.

Participants were asked a series of questions on eight wellbeing themes: leadership and management, culture, staff morale, team, vision and strategy, engagement, continuous improvement, and roles.

Looking at the responses given by managers specifically, 20% indicated a dissatisfaction with workload, disagreeing with the statement: ‘The amount of work I am expected to do is reasonable’. Another 14% said they were not sure.  

Only three other categories of workers – clinical partners, paramedics and other (non-specified) non-clinical staff – expressed a greater dissatisfaction with workload.

The report said: ‘Staff across all roles expressed concerns about workload with repeated requests for additional staff. Additionally, staff in virtually every category asked for improved rotas to account for cover for absences and annual leave. The categories of administration, reception and medical secretary, and nurse mentioned repeated concerns about being paid a fair wage.’

Meanwhile, 66% of managers said they can see themselves working at the practice in 5 years’ time, slightly above the average score for all roles. However, a significant 27% of managers said they were not sure and 7% said they disagreed with that statement.

Despite lower scores on staffing and workload, 85% of all respondents said they were proud to be a part of their practice (for managers specifically, this figure was 95%) and 91% said they enjoy working with their team within the practice (for managers this was 95%).

When it came to scores about leadership and management, only 59% agreed that managers resolve staff behaviours that do not support a healthy practice culture or high-quality patient care.

Though 82% indicated they felt supported and respected by their manager.

‘Several comments underscored to challenges with poor management and hierarchy,’ the report said. ‘In some practices, this is resulting in favouritism and bullying. Several staff requested that partners be more engaged with their staff to understand what was happening. On the positive side, the impact of a kind, supportive and caring manger or leader was very clear.’

Other findings showed that:

  • Practice nurses, paramedics and admin and reception staff were among the groups that gave the lowest scores across all the areas of wellbeing. Partners (clinical and non-clinical) had the highest.
  • Overall, culture was the area that respondents felt most positive about . For example, 81% agreed that people in the practice treat each other with respect, regardless of their job. And 90% agreed that their practice values diversity within the workforce.
  • Overall, the scores in the engagement area were the lowest. Only 58% agreed that partners and managers take action on ideas and suggestions made by staff. And 59% said they feel well informed about what is going on in the practice.

Caroline Hine, head of strategy and innovation Qualitas, said: ‘Findings reflect tightly knit teams that are endeavouring to provide outstanding care under immense pressure.’

She added that alongside giving a valuable insight into the mindset of GP practice staff nationally, the staff survey can help partners consider how the culture at their practice affects staff morale and ‘intent to stay’.

‘Partners can identify opportunities to improve staff morale within their own team, investing in them (in ways other than financial) to improve morale. We have seen partnerships make changes (often modest) that have led to up to a 57% increase in staff intent to stay. Retaining staff in the current financial climate is critical to GP practice stability and to the quality of patient care.’

What ideas did managers in practices suggest to improve the care provided by their surgery?

 In the survey, managers suggested there should be:

  • Stronger relationships/communication with staff – in particular, more contact with receptionists and admin staff
  • Incentives to make all staff feel cared for
  • Sharing successes to recognise hard work
  • Supporting staff emotionally when workload is high
  • Training new staff when staff turnover is high is exhausting.