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Warning over diabetes specialist nursing shortage

Diabetes care is being pushed to breaking point because of a “dramatic shortage” of specialist nurses, according to a new analysis.

A third of hospitals do not have a specific diabetes inpatient specialist nurse, says the paper published by Diabetes UK, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and diabetes nurses’ group TREND-UK (see attached PDF, right).

Meanwhile, nearly 40% of diabetes specialist nurses (DSNs) say their posts have either been downgraded or are under review, found a survey conducted as part of the analysis.

In addition, 20% of DSNs reported spending less time with patients because they had more admin work to do and about half struggled to access training to improve their skills.

“They will not be able to offer a good standard of care to all their patients”

Barbara Young

With nearly half due to retire within the next 10 years and the number of people diagnosed with diabetes increasing, Diabetes UK chief executive Barbara Young said the NHS was facing a “black hole opening up in diabetes care”.

Barbara Young

“Unless the number of DSNs starts to rise along with the rising number of people with diabetes, their work will be spread increasingly thinly,” she said.

“Together with the gradual erosion of their professional status, this will mean they will not be able to offer a good standard of care to all their patients.”

The paper highlights evidence DSNs help secure better outcomes for patients and can save the NHS money by cutting patients’ length of stay in hospital, reducing hospital admissions and reducing their risk of developing health complications over time.

Yet increasingly DSN posts are being left frozen and unfilled with new posts given to staff without appropriate qualifications and experience, who are cheaper to employ.

“Short-term cost-cutting in this area can have devastating effects”

Peter Carter

There is currently a “dramatic shortage” of DSNs, said RCN general secretary and chief executive Peter Carter. He warned: “Short-term cost-cutting in this area can have devastating effects.”

As well as calling for an increase in the number of DSNs, the three organisations want the NHS to adopt a consistent job title for the role.

The survey of more than 70 DSNs found 16 different diabetes nursing job titles leading to confusion among patients, professionals and commissioners.

The campaigners want to see the roll out of a national competency framework and proper accreditation for DSNs to give them the same professional status as other specialist nurse roles.

Employers need to support DSNs to develop their skills and “ensure DSNs’ time is put to best use on complex clinical care”, while those looking at workforce planning must make certain there are enough suitably qualified nurses to care for the predicted five million people with diabetes by 2025.

The paper says there should be at least five DSNs per 250,000 population with at least one diabetes inpatient specialist nurse per 300 beds.

Readers' comments (3)

  • I am sorry to read this but I fear they are not the only specialism to be slowly diminished in their numbers. I work in the continence field and we are having the same challenges. We all know this is a false economy but the Trusts seem to no longer have the ability to be pro-active and plan ahead!!

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  • michael stone

    I'm getting quite old now, and from a 'I'm getting elderly' perspective, this is worrying. I think anonymous above has covered most of it.

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  • Many DSN post are being frozen and then more junior nurses are doing the DSN job. If this continues then the CCGs will see that they can commission lower grade nurses to do the job. This will mean the patients will not be getting the care they need and the DSNs are going to become very disheartened and possibly leave. We need to feel valued by the Trusts we work for not just the patients we look after. The diabetes population is increasing daily so surely we need to increase the number of highly skilled DSNs we have not decrease them or replace them with less skilled nurses.

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