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Staffing issuesJan 11, 2022

Burn out and disenchantment affecting physios and other professionals recruited to GP practices

The attraction of being based in general practices appears to be waning among the physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals who signed up to work there in recent years, the Royal College of General Practitioners warned yesterday (10 January).

In a strongly worded statement, RCGP chair Martin Marshall criticised the government for failing to meet some of its promises on increasing the number of GPs and other healthcare professionals in primary care settings in England.

Professor Marshall said: ‘The RCGP has been making the case for years that general practice is working under intense workload and workforce pressures. This was the case before the pandemic, and the crisis has only exacerbated this.'

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Pressures may be driving recent recruits away from posts in general practice settings, says RCGP

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RCGP is 'really concerned'


‘These pressures are taking their toll on the whole GP practice team, and colleagues are reporting that it isn’t just more established roles, such as GPs and nurses, feeling burnt out and leaving the profession earlier than planned – but some of the newer roles as well,' Professor Marshall said.

The RCGP chair referred to health secretary Sajid Javid’s recent admission that the government would not meet its pledge to ensure the number of GPs rises by 6,000 by 2024. Given the ‘intense pressures’ facing RCGP members, he said the admission was ‘really concerning’ – even if not surprising.

‘Alongside this pledge was another promise of 26,000 more members of the wider practice team, which might include pharmacists, mental health therapists, physios, and link workers – sometimes known as social prescribers. 

‘These professionals, alongside GPs and our established nursing colleagues, can provide both excellent and appropriate care for patients, but also free up GPs’ time for patients with complex health needs, who are most likely to benefit from our medical expertise.

'And whilst progress in meeting this target is better than the GP target, it’s still slow and very concerning that this could be another promise that won’t be met. With around 9,400 people recruited so far, progress is being made but efforts need to be stepped up to catch up and meet the target.’

These pressures are taking their toll on the whole GP practice team ... and colleagues are reporting that it isn’t just more established roles [who are] feeling burnt out and leaving the profession earlier than planned – but some of the newer roles as well [Martin Marshall, RCGP]

GPs and teams are 'exhausted'

The RCGP analysed NHS Digital figures to show that an estimated 9,500 full-time equivalent staff members (excluding GPs and practice nurses) were directly delivering patient care last September. They had been recruited to various primary care networks as part of the government’s manifesto pledge to recruit 26,000 staff into the wider practice team by 2024.

Professor Marshall said GPs and their teams were ‘exhausted’ – because they were working ‘flat out’ delivering care to more patients, with increasingly complex health needs, while also responding to the extra demands linked to the Covid-19 response.

‘General practice is the backbone of the NHS, carrying out the bulk of NHS patient contacts and in turn alleviating pressures across the service. We need the government to make good on its promise of 6,000 GPs and 26,000 members of the wider practice team by 2024 – and to tackle parallel workforce pressures facing practice nursing teams, which aren’t included in this target – to ensure patients can continue to receive high-quality and personalised care from their GP practice.’

Public needs 'clear messages' on what to expect

In a further reference to the newer roles being filled in practices by physios and other professions, Professor Marshall added: ‘We also need to see clear public messaging about who patients may expect to get care and services from in general practice, so that patients understand this is about ensuring they get the most appropriate care for their health needs, and not just about not being able to see their GP.’

A spokesperson for NHS Digital told PhysioUpdate that at least one national newspaper had given misleading figures on how many physiotherapists were working in primary care settings, by misinterpreting numbers given in two different sets of statistics; respectively, these are the General Practice Workforce figures and the Primary Care Network Workforce figures.

See: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/general-and-personal-medical-services

And: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/primary-care-network-workforce/30-september-2021

Number of full time equivalent (FTE) physiotherapists in general practice settings in March 2020

General practice workforce: 54

Primary care networks: 6 

Total: 60 

Number of FTE physiotherapists in general practice settings September 2021

General practice workforce: 119 

Primary care networks: 652 

Total: 771

Figures supplied by NHS Digital

To read the RCGP press release in full, visit: https://www.rcgp.org.uk/about-us/news/2022/january/26000-extra-staff-target.aspx

To find out more about NHS plans to appoint more physiotherapists as first contact practitioners in GP practices in England, visit: https://www.england.nhs.uk/gp/expanding-our-workforce/first-contact-physiotherapists/

To read an exclusive PhysioUpdate Q&A with first contact practitioner pioneer Amanda Hensman-Crook, visit: https://www.physioupdate.co.uk/news/in-a-qa-primary-care-pioneer-amanda-hensman-crook-explains-how-you-can-follow-her-lead/

Author: Ian A McMillan
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