Care minister Caroline Dinenage has revealed plans to improve understanding of the work undertaken by community nurses among the wider health workforce.
She said professionals from other fields of the health service would be recruited to shadow nurses in community settings, following concerns raised about a lack of awareness of the nature of the role.
“Community healthcare professionals are among the greatest assets we have”
The pledge comes as Ms Dinenage said her own eyes were opened when she spent a day with a district nurse earlier this year, while carrying out home visits on the outskirts of London.
Speaking at an event in London today, the Conservative MP for Gosport said clinicians had used the government’s recently launched Talk Health and Care online engagement platform to ask for community nursing to be brought more to the forefront.
“A major theme emerging… is the need to improve the visibility of the community health workforce amongst students, amongst other NHS professionals, and amongst the public,” she said.
In response, Ms Dinenage said the government would be extending a “workforce exchange” scheme into community settings.
Previously trialled in Wessex, the programme will allow professionals from other areas of the health workforce to shadow community staff.
“We want all health professionals to have a greater understanding of the work undertaken by community staff,” Ms Dinenage said.
She made the announcement during the launch of a new report complied by the King’s Fund on behalf of the National Garden Scheme exploring the contribution of the charitable sector to community nursing.
The minister said she believed all community nurses “deserve a medal” for the way they improved the quality of families’ lives.
“Community healthcare professionals, I believe, are among the greatest assets we have,” Ms Dinenage told the room of nursing leaders.
“They deliver high quality care in what can often be extremely challenging and difficult circumstances,” she added.
Ms Dinenage explained how she had been left in awe of the work of community staff after following a district nurse during a shift in March this year.
She said the role she discovered was not just about “nursing brilliance”, but involved a lot of problem solving and had links with detective work.
“It’s less Florence Nightingale and more Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and Carol Vorderman rolled into one,” the politician said.
She added: “There’s a lot of working independently as well, a lot of relying on your own initiative, trusting your own judgement on decisions that can actually have a massive impact on patients’ lives.”
Another theme that had emerged from Talk Health and Care was the need for greater protection for staff against abuse in the workplace, Ms Dinenage said.
She revealed that the forthcoming NHS people plan, which will put meat on the bones of the workforce vision laid out in the NHS Long Term Plan in January, would give an extra £2m a year to “tackle violence and bullying against staff”.
“Because if we expect our amazing health and care staff to deliver great care they do have the right to do it without the fear of physical or indeed verbal abuse,” the minster added.
Community nurses would play a leading role in the delivery of the long-term plan due its focus on proactive, preventative and personalised care outside of hospitals, said Ms Dinenage.
“I think that’s a really bold statement of intent from NHS England”
She highlighted how the government had proved its commitment to this agenda by pledging an extra £4.5bn a year for primary and community health services by 2023-24.
In addition, she noted how NHS England had recently appointed Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust chief executive Matthew Winn as its first community services director, charged with leading its ‘ageing well’ programme.
“He’s the first to take up this role and I think that’s a really bold statement of intent from NHS England that they are serious about building community services,” said Ms Dinenage.
She also reassured that the long-term plan would bring improvements to mobile technology for community staff, describing the current offer as “clunky”.
“One of the things I noticed on my visits with the district nurse was just how clunky and difficult her mobile technology was to deal and I’m not a technical whiz by any stretch of the imagination but I could even see that it was really not up to the job,” she told delegates.
However, she made no mention of the whereabouts of the government’s long-awaited social care green paper, which was initially due for publication in the summer of 2017 and has missed several deadlines since then.
Ms Dinenage left the event at the King’s Fund offices in London before the question and answer session with delegates at the end.