The ongoing decline in district nurse numbers is contributing to the winter pressures currently facing hospitals, as it is reducing the ability to treat people at home, a community nurse leader has warned.
Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, highlighted that district nurses could help “avert” hospital admissions and also speed up discharge, especially for older patients.
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She said: “We know that many patients would prefer to be cared for in their own home rather than be admitted to hospital. District nurses play a critical role in averting potential hospital admissions, facilitating a timely discharge process and helping patients and their carers to be as independent as possible.
“However, figures on the district nursing workforce are alarming,” warned Dr Oldman in a statement issued yesterday after NHS managers claimed that the health service had reached a “watershed” in the pressures it was facing in terms of capacity.
The NHS Providers organisation noted that latest figures on health service performance in England were some of the worst ever recorded, with trusts were reporting bed occupancy rates of over 90% – well above the recommended safe level of 85%.
Trusts were also warning that there were no longer sufficient staff or beds to ensure safety, and a group of doctors warned in a hard-hitting letter to the government that patients were “dying in hospital corridors”.
Meanwhile, later in the day, Public Health England figures showed a continuing rise in cases of influenza, with a spike in patients presenting in primary care as well as hospital admissions.
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But Dr Oldman highlighted, that, between 2010 and 2016, the number of whole-time equivalent qualified district nurses in England fell by 46.4%.
In addition, the number of available university district nurse training places currently shows a downward trajectory, with up to 50% of courses facing closure in 2018, she noted.
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“The government urgently needs to develop a clearer vision for future district nursing services and to provide additional resources to community services at a level sufficient to guarantee a fall in demand for hospital based services,” stated Dr Oldman.
She added: “The health service is facing exceptional pressure this winter and credit must be given to health and care staff around the country who are continuing to manage exceptionally high levels of demand.”