Uncertainty over the future of a major restructuring programme of England’s community services risks eroding already low morale among nurses working in the sector, nursing leaders have warned.
The general election took place during a critical phase of the Transforming Community Services programme – under which district nurses, health visitors and other frontline community staff are set to be moved from primary care trusts to other employers including acute trusts and social enterprise schemes, which are independent of the NHS.
PCTs had to submit their plans for the future of their community services by 1 May, but the coalition government has so far failed to indicate what will happen to the programme. The government has also signalled that strategic health authorities, which were assessing the plans, are to be phased out.
Queen’s Nursing Institute director Rosemary Cook said the programme had already caused unease among community nurses, because it involved nurses moving to a different organisation, potentially outside the NHS.
However, she warned new uncertainty over their future caused by a stalling of the programme meant low morale among community nurses was likely to get worse.
Ms Cook highlighted that it was five years since the start of major community service restructuring, when primary care trusts were split into sections that provided services and those that commissioned them. She said: “Now community nurses are feeling even more insecure.
“Community nurses do tend to be an older workforce, and they are feeling devalued. We are losing the most experienced staff,” she said.
This warning has been echoed by managers. One foundation trust chief executive said uncertainty over the programme would have a negative effect on community staff. He said: “In periods of uncertainty, that’s when you lose your best staff.”
Royal College of Nursing primary care adviser Lynn Young said: “Community nurses have had nothing but uncertainty for the past few years and they will be thinking ‘here we go again’.”
She said she thought some of the plans for community serves would carry on because they were “quite far down the line”. But she also warned nurses would have to wait till the government set out its health plans in detail in white paper – expected in the autumn – to see exactly what would happen.