Nursing groups say ministers must ‘urgently’ halt plummeting staff numbers amid rising care demands
The Government has been warned it faces “serious” challenges in district nursing, as figures revealed a major drop in staff numbers.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) called for an “urgent” boost in funding, after it emerged the number of staff working in district nursing fell by 43% over the last decade.
NHS Digital revealed the drop in workforce since September 2009 had left just one district nurse for every 14,000 Brits, compared to one GP for every 1,600.
In a new report, the groups said those in the job were unable to provide consistent high-quality care since they were “working to capacity, at sometimes unsafe staffing levels”.
“There are serious retention and recruitment challenges, with an older workforce and insufficient qualified nurses to replace those who retire,” the report said.
It added that the Government pledge to make community care a priority in the NHS Long Term Plan will not become a reality unless more district nurses are recruited.
Yinglen Butt, Associate Director of Nursing at the RCN, branded the "chronic underfunding" of the service "an outrageous false economy".
"District Nurses provide a lifeline for patients, many of them frail and elderly, who often can’t leave their own homes to get care elsewhere," she said, ahead of the body's conference in Liverpool.
"It’s time Ministers undertook a proper assessment of staffing needs based on the fundamental principle of patient safety, and enshrined explicit accountability for delivering this into law."
Dr Crystal Oldman CBE, the QNI’s chief executive, said: “The success of the NHS Long Term Plan depends on the capacity and capability of District Nursing teams and renewed investment in their education, recruitment and retention is urgently needed.”
Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth fumed: “This is a terrible loss of expertise from the frontline, and is particularly concerning against a backdrop of cuts to the wider nursing workforce, including a drop in applications to study nursing.
“These nurses do vital work across primary care. The fact that so many are leaving blows apart Tory promises on treating more people closer to home in the wider community."
But a Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said minsters were "committed to maintaining the number of district nurses to continue their vital work".
They added: "We are working with Health Education England on funding for the specialist practice qualification for district nursing, expanding routes into the profession by developing an apprenticeship and will consider them in the upcoming NHS People Plan."