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Growth of district nurse workforce maybe ‘tailing off’, warns QNI

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The number of district nurses in training has risen again over the 12 months, but the rate of increase is predicted to slow compared with previous years, according to latest figures.

The Queen’s Nursing Institute has today published its most recent survey, showing the number of district nurse students undertaking specialist practice programmes across the UK in 2015.

The Report on District Nurse Education in the United Kingdom 2014-15 is the third such annual study carried out by the community nursing charity.

The QNI research found there were 479 district nurses due to qualify in summer 2015, compared to 382 in 2014. There was good news for the capital, with 64 students due to qualify in London in 2015, compared to 25 in 2014 and just five in 2013.

Two more universities ran the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s approved programme in 2014-15 than 2013-14, and 54% of universities ran programmes with more than 11 students in each cohort.

In addition, there were 566 new entrants to the Specialist Practitioner – District Nurse programme in 2014-15 and there are 647 new students predicted for the intake in the academic year 2015-16.

However, these numbers, while still increasing, represent a slowing down in growth of new entrants to courses from 32.6% in 2014-15 to 14.3% predicted for 2015-16.

 Country    Number of new entrants 2013-14Number of new entrants 2014-15Predicted number of students 2015-16
 England  329  446  494
 Wales  31  42  61
 Northern Ireland  26  21  35
 Scotland  41  57  57
 Total  427  566  647
 Increase from previous year   N/A 32.6%   14.3%

QNI chief executive Dr Crystal Oldman welcomed the estimated 25% increase in the number of district nurse students due to qualify.

But she warned that the extent to which numbers of new entrants were increasing year-on-year appeared to be “tailing off”.

“The QNI is concerned the newly qualified district nurses will not be of sufficient number”

Crystal Oldman

In addition, she highlighted that, in proposals for 2016-17, Health Education England had cut the number of commissions for specialist district nurse programmes by 0.8%, compared to 2015-16.

“The QNI finds this move alarming, particularly given the recent policy focus across the UK on delivering more care in the community,” said Dr Oldman.

“The QNI is concerned that the newly qualified district nurses will not be of sufficient number to meet the increased demand or to replace those due to retire,” she said. “Additionally, there remains a critical need to develop a robust workforce plan for district nurses.”

Crystal Oldman

Crystal Oldman

Crystal Oldman

The institute highlighted that it had published a report in 2014 on good practice in caseload allocation and workforce planning in district nursing, which was commissioned by NHS England.

It said it should “inform” work by new regulator NHS Improvement on safe staffing in the community – helping determine the number of new nurses required to enable more care to be delivered closer to, or in, the home.

The NHS Improvement work, expected to be completed later this year, has replaced the National Institute for Clinical Excellence’s now cancelled safe staffing guidance programme.

Dr Oldman added: “It is clear that the policy objective of more care being delivered closer to or in the home will not be fully realised without the expertise and leadership of the district nurse specialist practitioner in the community.”

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