The care minister for England, Caroline Dinenage, has promised to fight to get the voice of community nurses heard in government.
In a speech at the Queen’s Nursing Institute conference, Ms Dinenage, who was appointed to the job in January 2018, set out her policy priorities.
“Much of what you do goes unnoticed and that simply must change”
Ms Dinenage, whose brief includes community services, adult social care and dementia, said she was “passionate” about community health services.
It was time for society to take more notice of what community nurses did, she said, highlighting the conference theme Healthcare in the Community: From Silence to Voice.
“This year’s theme… makes so much sense to me, because much of what you do goes unnoticed and that simply must change,” said Ms Dinenage.
She said: “As our population continues to age, grow and diversify we have a challenge of scale: how do we transform and expand community health services to meet growing demand?”
There had never been a time when community nursing was so important, and the NHS needed to adapt to this, she told delegates on Monday.
“Out of hospital care should become a bigger part of what the NHS does,” she said. “It’s what people who use services want – who doesn’t want to recover in their own home, surrounded by family, friends and familiar things?”
“I truly believe the workforce and patient benefits could be dramatically improved if we get it right”
She set out three particular areas of focus – the workforce, improved data on staff and patients, and joining up structures.
On the last of these priorities, she said: “I believe community services are the cornerstone of prevention.”
However, the challenge was to make better links with other parts of the health and social care, she said.
On workforce, she highlighted that efforts were being made to get newly qualified staff into the community sector.
She cited the “golden hello” of up to £10,000 for graduates who want to go on to district nursing roles, which was announced in May by the health minister Steve Barclay.
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Meanwhile, she said “big progress” was being made on the community services dataset, which is being overseen by NHS Digital.
The data set is intended to allow community service providers and commissioners to view local and national information from services in order to improve patient care.
“This dataset is allowing commissioners and providers to view local and national information such as referrals, care contacts and patient demographics, to help them make better, informed, decisions that improve patient care,” she said.
“But there is much more to be done here and I truly believe the workforce and patient benefits could be dramatically improved if we get it right,” she added.
In particular, she told delegates she was keen to address a “giant data gap” in the independent sector for workforce data.
“We are struggling to put down the number of people who are providing NHS services,” said Ms Dinenage.
“For example, we may know how many district nurses are employed by the NHS, but we struggle to put a number on those delivering NHS funded services through other organisations,” she said.
She hoped that the next phase would capture extra information, such as patient health outcomes and the range and location of staff roles delivering services.
She urged delegates to use the TalkHealthandCare digital platform, which was launched by the health and social care secretary Matt Hancock earlier this month.
“We want to hear about what matters to you, examples of what’s working well, and about what more we can do to make things better,” she said. “I encourage you all to join this important conversation.”
Ms Dinenage is the first minister to have addressed the Queen’s Nursing Institute conference.
In a speech that was sometimes personal, she talked of her own family’s struggle to cope caring for family members with dementia and cancer.
In a question and answer session after her speech, a delegate said that “you can’t develop an already diminished and stretched workforce” and asked her to bring back the student nurse bursary.
The comment was met by loud applause and a smiling Ms Dinenage replied “I hear you”, but added that such matters were “beyond my paygrade”.