Cost-saving programmes that are leaving diabetes specialist nurse positions unfilled will cause more people with diabetes to suffer from loss of sight, worsening health and the need to have limbs amputated, it has been warned.
According to a study by Diabetes UK, the number of diabetes specialist nurse posts that have not been filled has doubled in a year.
Some 385 hospital trusts and primary care trusts were questioned for the poll, which also revealed that in 2010 there were 218 positions left vacant, despite the number of people with diabetes growing by 150,000 each year.
The number of diabetes specialist nurse posts being left unfilled for cost-cutting reasons increased from 34% in 2009 to 43% in 2010, the charity added.
Diabetes UK chief executive Barbara Young said: “At a time when numbers of people with diabetes are increasing, a decrease in the number of diabetes specialist nurses is very concerning.
“This will mean longer waiting times for specialist support, more unnecessary amputations, more people losing their sight and far poorer health outcomes. This is simply not acceptable.”
Dr Peter Carter, from the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It really is worrying that despite repeated warnings, NHS trusts are still making short-sighted decisions which risk leaving patients high and dry. Our own survey showed that more than one in 10 specialist nurses may already be at risk of redundancy - something which we know would have a serious impact on patient care.
“The smart solution for trusts would be to keep investing in specialist services which can keep patients as well as possible and above all, out of hospital.”
June James, audit author and a diabetes consultant nurse, said: “There is a mass of evidence proving the clinical effectiveness of diabetes specialist nurses and their ability to reduce medication errors, the numbers of people needing admission to hospital, and length of hospital stays.
“Reductions in diabetes specialist nurse staffing levels will continue to compromise the quality of care received by people with diabetes, complicated by associated health problems such as heart and kidney disease, or during pregnancy. Worryingly, even when diabetes specialist nurses are in post, they are being asked to cover shortfalls elsewhere.
“At a recent national meeting of around 100 hospital diabetes specialist nurses, I asked how many of those in attendance were being asked to work on general wards to help with staff shortages there, and nearly everyone put their hand up.”