NHS leaders hail rise in PCN staff but warn recruitment must go further

Staff employed by PCNs in direct patient care roles jumped by 12.3% between March and June 2022, according to analysis of NHS Digital figures by GPonline.

Responses from 1,077 PCNs show networks had recruited on average 10.7 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff delivering direct patient care by June 2022 – up from 9.6 in March.

Across the 1,261 PCNs in England, this suggests total staff in direct patient care roles have reached 13,457 – just over halfway to the target set by the government and NHS England to bring in 26,000 staff to support primary care by 2024 through the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS).

PCN recruitment

Ruth Rankine, director of primary care at the NHS Confederation said the increase in the primary care workforce was a direct result of PCNs’ efforts to recruit more staff from varying specialities and professions.

‘NHS leaders agree that the sector needs to be expanded even further to provide the broadest range of healthcare services to patients and local communities, including increased numbers of nursing associates, pharmacists, mental health practitioners and physiotherapists working alongside doctors and other general practice staff,’ Ms Rankine said.

However PCNs are facing significant cashflow challenges because late payments under ARRS have left them out of pocket by six-figure sums and accountants have warned that payment delays have left some PCNs increasingly ‘frightened’ to recruit.

The BMA has also warned that PCNs are struggling to use hundreds of millions of pounds in recruitment cash because practices have no room to accommodate new staff.

Rising demand

Ms Rankine said primary care leaders are aware that despite these increases, the workforce is not expanding quickly enough given the pressures of large treatment backlogs and an ageing population and called on the government to set out a plan to address chronic staff shortages across primary care.

The FTE fully-qualified GP workforce fell by 442 in the year to June 2022 as numbers of patients registered with practices grew – leaving each GP caring for 3% more patients now than 12 months ago.

‘We are deeply concerned that the number of fully qualified GPs fell by over 2% during the year up to June 2022, with hundreds of GPs leaving the service,’ Ms Rankine said.

She added: ‘The Health Foundation also recently projected that the overall shortage in qualified permanent GPs in England will increase to 6,700 by 2023/24, rising further to 8,800 by 2030/31.’

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