Plummeting numbers of district nurses “a disaster for patient care”Ivy Madziva
(Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
The number of district nurses covering Coventry and Warwickshire has dropped by almost a quarter in a decade.
Nursing charities called the falling numbers “a disaster for patient care” and called for immediate investment to reverse the decline.
NHS Digital figures show there were 99 full-time equivalent district nurses working for trusts and clinical commissioning groups in Coventry and Warwickshire as of June this year.
That is down from 127 in September 2009, when comparable figures were first published.
Across England, the number of district nurses working for NHS trusts and CCGs has fallen from 7,643 in 2009 to 4,325 in 2018.
Queen’s Nursing Institute
Matthew Bradby, head of communications at the Queen’s Nursing Institute – a charity dedicated to improving nursing in the community
– said falling numbers of district nurses had a knock-on effect on demand for emergency and social care.
He said: “The reason that more work has to be done by social care is because of the lack of district nurses who used to coordinate care.
“It’s no longer a universal service, or it’s just clinging on as a universal service.
“District nurses have been replaced by other positions, such as unqualified health care assistants.
“The standard of care that an unqualified health care assistant or nursing associate is able to provide is not as high in quality as a district nurse can provide.”
Mr Bradby gave an example of the treatment of lower leg wounds, which are more likely to affect older people and those with diabetes.
Such wounds can be hard to treat – meaning people suffering for months, and potentially going to hospital if not treated well.
He said: “That’s something that a district nurse can do, if they’re going in regularly with compression bandages, and that has a huge beneficial effect on those people and on the NHS budget.
“We’ve argued that not investing in district nurses is a false economy.
“We started drawing attention to this about five years ago, that the number of district nurses in training was falling, then there was increase but that increase has stalled and the last couple of years the number of new nurses that are training isn’t enough to replace those retiring and older nurses are retiring all the time, and that will have an impact on the quality of patient care and that’s a shame.
“It’s more than a shame, it’s a disaster for patient care.”
ROYAL COLLEGE OF NURSING
Wendy Preston, head of nursing at the Royal College of Nursing, said the alarming rate of decline was leaving vulnerable people without the care they need.
She said: “District nurses support the most vulnerable people in our society yet constraints on funding and staff numbers, coupled with increased demand for their services, are dramatically affecting their ability to provide quality care.
“Cuts to training budgets has caused a barrier to career progression within the community nursing workforce, prompting further staff shortages.
“NHS leaders are facing tough decisions but cutting community services places more pressure on emergency care and the safety of patients.
“If district nurses are to continue playing a pivotal role in delivering care closer to home then funding must be able to adapt to growing demand.”
The RCN said it was possible the drop was down to nurses moving to work for other health organisations outside the NHS, but said better figures were needed to assess state of the community nursing workforce and patients outcomes.
What the government said
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “There has been an increase in district nurses this year and we are working to attract more people by offering £10,000 ‘golden hellos’ to postgraduate nurses and expanding routes into the profession by developing an apprenticeship.
“Health Education England is currently considering how to further support the community nursing workforce and get more nurses into training.”
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