Changes, challenges and choices for the primary health care workforce: looking to the future


Susan Jenkins-Clarke, Centre for Health Economics, University of York, York YO1 5DD, UK. E-mail:


Changes, challenges and choices for the primary health care workforce: looking to the future

Aims. The main aim of this paper is to draw attention to problems facing the primary health care workforce in terms of demand for treatment of minor illness over the next two decades. These predictions have implications for the community nursing workforce in particular and the flexibility of primary health care teams in general.

Background. Care delivered in the primary care sector influences, and is influenced by, the characteristics of the health care workforce. These characteristics fall into two main groups: firstly, the shape of the present medical and nursing workforce and manpower trends; and secondly, the changes in doctors’ and nurses’ workloads.

Design. This paper draws on two studies, both commissioned by the Department of Health; the first study focusing on skill mix and delegation in primary health care teams and the second addressing the implications of skill mix for medical workforce scenarios in the changing policy environment.

Findings. From the first study, general practitioners across ten general practices were prepared to delegate at least one topic from over a third of 836 consultations and a further 17% of entire consultations. This potential delegation fell mainly to practice nurses and nurse practitioners. The second study used data extracted from the National Morbidity Surveys of 1981 and 1991 predicting that minor consultations are set to increase by 11 million from the 1990s to 2020 – a minimal estimate. The authors argue that many of these extra predicted consultations will find their way onto practice nurses’ and nurse practitioners’ caseloads.

Conclusions. Workforce issues and questions of professional roles and boundaries, in the context of the ‘greying’ community nursing workforce, demand solutions if patient/client demand is to be met over the next two decades.