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Exclusive: Programme helps nurses demonstrate value of specialist posts

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A project to demonstrate the value of multiple sclerosis specialist nurses has helped secure jobs, says the charity behind the ground-breaking scheme.

The Generating Evidence in Multiple Sclerosis Services (GEMSS) programme, funded and led by the MS Trust, saw nurses gather and analyse data to show to senior managers and commissioners.

The initiative was sparked by a 2011 report by the charity, which found MS specialist nurses were highly valued by patients and other professionals yet revealed a lack of hard evidence that services were cost effective.

Amy Bowen, director of service development at the MS Trust and a nurse, said a crucial factor was supporting frontline staff to assess services, rather than bringing in external evaluators.

“Nurses understand better than anyone what it is they do, but might not necessarily have the language to communicate that to commissioners who make decisions about the future of services,” she said.

MS specialist nurses from five organisations in four areas – Sheffield, Dorset, Dudley and Northumbria – received training and expert guidance to evaluate their services in the year up to March 2013.

Nurses helped develop performance indicators – linked to key NHS outcomes – and went on to gather both quantitative and qualitative data, including surveys of patients and colleagues.

All participants said the scheme had a positive impact on nurses’ evaluation skills and ability to describe and explain their role, according to a report on the first phase of the project.

Some reported improvements in the way teams worked together, while the majority said there had been improvements in the running of their service.

There is evidence the project helped secure specialist jobs. In Northumbria the scheme resulted in 12 months extra funding for a second MS nurse post, and in Dudley an MS nurse’s fixed term contract was extended partly based on the strength of data collected.

The findings come amid fears many specialist nursing roles and posts will be lost as part of NHS cutbacks. Trusts were reducing overall numbers of specialists to save money and also not replacing them when they retire.

Ms Bowen added that some specialist MS roles were becoming more generalist, with nurses asked to take on other neurological conditions.

She said the GEMSS programme had definitely helped secure jobs, but teams were not yet in a position to demonstrate clear value for money.

Cost-effectiveness would be a key feature of the second phase of the programme, which will involve 10 new teams, she said. The charity expects to publish a full report in summer 2015.

David Foster, deputy director of nursing at the Department of Health and a member of the programme’s advisory board, said it was an “inspiring model”.

David Foster, Deputy Director of Nursing at the Department of Health

David Foster, DH deputy director of nursing

“Nurses need to have the confidence to lead discussions about the effectiveness and value of their services,” he said.

“GEMSS is addressing this by equipping MS nurses with the skills to not only collect data but to communicate the difference they make.”


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