Of course, bring on the nurse practitioners and upskill the practice nurses, but they need help too
Yesterday, I trotted along to enrol at my local general practice. I’ve moved to an area of about 12,000 people so it’s a big practice. But a slightly indifferent receptionist said, “Sorry, we aren’t taking new patients, we don’t have enough GPs.”
I was a bit taken aback but luckily found a smaller practice which had just recruited a GP from overseas and that one doctor was accepting new patients.
A few days before this, I had been visiting a city of around 130,000, and a GP told me how desperately short of doctors they were. A 20-doctor practice was down by five doctors. “Everyone is retiring.”
Then last night, I was chatting to a lovely young GP in a provincial town of 60,000, who said, “We are the only practice in town enrolling new patients and we don’t have enough doctors, but we feel someone has to take them.”
This is serious. We’ve been told the GP workforce will shrink due to retirement and not enough new GPs being trained, but this is getting critical. Are we nearing the point where, nationwide, general practices won’t be accepting new patients?
Obviously, I asked my under-doctored local practice if they had nurse practitioners – which they didn’t. Growing the primary care workforce is a whole other complex problem which I hope someone is working on. While we wait, I wonder if we could work smarter?
How about each GP has a healthcare assistant (HCA) working with them all the time. GPs are doing a whole lot of things in a day that could be done by someone else.
I am probably spending an hour or two a day labelling chlamydia tubes, dip-sticking urine, taking blood pressure, finding the form for a parking permit or working out which social service is right for which ethnic group. I’m not quite ready to have the HCA in the room with me, but imagine if all that was done before or after I saw the patient?
And could my HCA stock my room, because about five times yesterday I went looking for equipment or forms or swabs or pregnancy tests. With about three minutes for each search that amounts to one appointment slot.
The practice where I work is also 25 per cent down in doctors, so it’s kind of silly for me to be doing that, don’t you think?
Why am I even spending time collecting patients from the waiting room? Don’t get me wrong, I love the greeting, but when they have three handbags and a walking frame, it’s a long process.