Column: Changes to primary care workforce

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You may have noticed some fresh faces in your local General Practice recently and if you haven’t yet, you soon will. You see, General Practice is changing.

We’re all used to having a family doctor. You know, the doctor who you were registered with when you were born and have seen time and time again through your life because they know you. Like it or not, this can’t continue. Some people don’t want that style of General Practice anymore and there aren’t nearly enough Doctors to meet the needs of the population. As a country we’ve grown and so has our need for medical help.

Consequently, team General Practice is evolving into team Primary Care.

Imagine calling your local Primary Care Hub. Instead of a receptionist taking your call you’ll be greeted by a Healthcare Navigator. Their role is to guide you to the right part of the NHS. You’ll need to tell them about your problem so that they can get you to where you need to be, which might mean an appointment within the hub or sending you elsewhere. In the Primary Care Hub there will be a menu of options available to you.

For reviews of medicines you might be booked to see the Pharmacist. The Pharmacist understands medicines better than anyone and will ensure you are taking the right medicine for your problem as well as monitor you for side effects. The Pharmacist might even be able to investigate and diagnose your problems, prescribe medicines and refer you to specialists.

For minor ailments your clinician of choice might be the Advanced Nurse Practitioner. Whilst this individual originally trained as a nurse they have undertaken studies at Master’s Degree Level to be able to investigate, diagnose, prescribe and refer. The newest addition to the team is the Physicians Associate, or PA. They started out with a degree in science but have since joined the fight against ill health and can investigate, diagnose, and refer.

We await the outcome of a recent Government review that will decide whether or not PA’s will also be able to prescribe.

Amongst other additions to the team, we might also see physiotherapists who will see, assess and treat joint problems and counsellors who will lead on mental health problems. Of course, the big difference here is that you won’t need a referral from a GP to see them but will access them directly via the Healthcare Navigator.

Last but not least we have the spearhead of the team, the Consultant of Family Care, who was once your local GP. As a consultant they will provide leadership and supervision to the team as well as expert advice when required. Their input is likely to be reserved for the most complex of society and so will no longer be the first port of call when trying to “get a GP appointment”. So, the next time you need an appointment at your local GP surgery, spare a thought for the diligent receptionist who is working hard to safely navigate you through this ever changing healthcare maze.