Northumberland’s population is ageing, but so are its doctors – almost half of the county’s GPs are over the age of 45 and 15 per cent are over 55.
The figures are even more stark for nurses working in primary care with almost three-quarters over the age of 45 and a third over 55.
This age profile is one of the issues which it is hoped will be addressed through a two-year programme of work, which aims to ensure primary care remains ‘sustainable and vibrant’.
Across the country, 90 per cent of contacts with the NHS are with primary care (GPs, dentists, pharmacists and community services), including 1.5million a year in Northumberland, but it attracts just 10 per cent of the funding.
The issues and the possible solutions were set out during a presentation at NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) governing body meeting on Wednesday (September 26).
David Shovlin, the CCG’s clinical director of primary care, said that there is a lot of overlap between what patients want to see and what GPs want – good access, continuity of care, time, and safe, high-quality care.
Patients also want information and explanation, while GPs increasingly want flexible working patterns and careers, a work-life balance and sustainable funding.
Future workforce solutions would have to add benefits, he said, for example, nurse practitioners who can prescribe, prescribing pharmacists, community paramedics and the likes of physiotherapists, mental-health workers and drug and alcohol support workers in-house – all of which frees up GPs to deal with the more complex cases.
Elements of secondary care – elderly care, rheumatology, dermatology, neurology – could be moved into primary care, helping to build the relationship between the two while supporting primary care.
Other areas of action include recruitment and retention, including how to make Northumberland attractive to young doctors, increasing the use of technology and other efficiencies across the county, for example, a locum bank and shared payroll and purchasing services.
The first step is an event for those involved in primary care next Wednesday (October 3), which will help develop the two-year programme of work the CCG plans to undertake ‘to put primary care at the very centre’.
By Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service