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Practice managers positive about widening the practice team to alleviate pressure, report finds

by Angela Sharda
27 March 2019

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Practice managers are positive about the potential of easing the pressures in general practice by incorporating a wide range of professions into the team, a new report has found.
The Primary Concerns 2018: The State of Primary Care report, released yesterday by Management in Practice publisher Cogora, revealed that nearly half, 45%, of practice managers currently employ a practice pharmacist and would continue to do so.
Almost as many, 41% said they would employ a practice pharmacist but are currently not.
Just 1.8% said they currently employ a practice pharmacist but would not continue to do so, while 6.8% said they do not currently employ a practice pharmacist and would not contemplate doing so in the future.
The report revealed that overall, 84% of survey respondents – which included more than 2,300 GP partners, salaried GPs, pharmacists, nurses and healthcare assistants across the UK, are in favour of clinical pharmacists being an integral part of the general practice workforce.
Wider skill mix  
In order to attempt to relieve the pressures within general practice, the Government is pursuing a course of encouraging a wider skill mix into the sector.
As part of the GP Forward View, NHS England in 2016 announced its intention to fund 5,000 practice staff into general practice, including social workers, nurses and 3,000 new practice-based mental health therapists.
Since the GP Forward View was published, the Government has invested more than £140m to bring around 2,000 pharmacists into general practice by 2020/21.
Practices across England are increasingly working with pharmacists, while there has to date been slightly less uptake when it comes to professions such as physician associates and mental health therapists within general practice. 
This year’s survey, the sixth to date, shows that as many as 40% of practice managers would employ a physician associate in their practice in the future, but do not currently do so.
A quarter of practice managers, 25%, appeared unconvinced of the benefits of hiring a physician associate, saying that they neither employed one currently, nor would consider doing so further down the line.
The report showed that the number of practices currently employing mental health therapists has remained constant at 10%, in comparison to last year’s findings,. However, this has almost doubled since 2016, when just 5.5% of respondents had one in their team.
The figures also showed that 62% of practice managers would employ a mental health therapist in their practice but do not currently do so, while 12% would not add a mental health therapist to their team.
While only 7.5% currently employ a mental health therapist, 100% of practice managers who did said they would continue doing so – indicating a positive experience.
According to research published by mental health charity Mind last year, two-thirds, 66% of GPs saw a rise in patients needing assistance with their mental health in the year ending June 2018.
GPs also reported that 40% of their consultations had come to involve mental health concerns.
The Primary Concerns 2018 report stated: ‘This increase in mental health-related workload could explain the fact that, overall, practices are more optimistic about the idea of having mental health therapists in the workforce.’
The survey also asked practice managers for their views on employing a nursing associate in their practice, following the opening of the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s nursing associate register in January this year. 
More than a third, 38%, of practice manager respondents said they would consider employing a nursing associate but had no plans to do so this year, while just under a third, 30%, said they did not know. Around a fifth, 19%, said they would not employ one.
Co-chair of the Practice Management Network Steve Williams said:  ‘Workforce planning in primary care has needed to adapt and the shortage of GPs has been a catalyst for this change. 
‘The role of nursing associate is relatively new, but is now formally recognised and being more widely adopted by practices,’