Specialist nurses are avoiding costs for their trusts by developing innovative services that keep children with epilepsy out of hospital, according to new analysis.
It concluded that advice lines for families, schools and young people, home visits and specialist clinics make managing conditions such as epilepsy easier for children and those who care for them.
“It gives them the information and confidence to care for a child with epilepsy effectively”
Yet as the nursing shortage continues to bite, managers often think that specialist nurses can be moved to fill rota gaps, warned the Royal College of Nursing.
The college warned that such thinking was a “false economy” because it deprived patients of their expertise and leads to unintended consequences.
Not only was this bad for patients, but it could also be putting pressure on other parts of the health and social care system, as well as schools, it noted.
It warned that, without adequate support, families often feel they had little choice but to take children with epilepsy to hospital at the “first sign something is wrong”.
But it highlighted that specialist nurses, such as Kirsten Johnson, were pioneering ways of helping families manage epilepsy that cause less distress and disruption for children and parents.
Ms Johnson, who works at Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust, has provided a first point of contact for families with children with epilepsy, giving access to the support to avoid hospital visits.
“I would like to see similar roles in as many trusts as possible”
As part of an RCN leadership development programme, the specialist epilepsy nurse undertook an economic assessment of her service to demonstrate the value of her role to the trust.
A hot line service she set up to offer parents, young people, carers and schools immediate expert guidance now receives more than 1,200 calls and almost 2,000 texts per year. This alone has freed up almost £85,000 worth of resources in just one year, according to the analysis.
The hot line allows her to offer help and advice when people need it most, and means more episodes can be safely managed outside hospital, said the RCN.
In addition, home visits offered another support option for worried parents, and specialist clinics allowed Ms Johnson to monitor medication and make sure it was being administered correctly.
Closely managing epilepsy in this way helped to prevent distressing seizures, so that Ms Johnson’s young patients could avoid as many emergency hospital visits, said the RCN.
When patients did have to go to hospital, Ms Johnson then visited them on the wards to let them know about her specialist service and see if they needed help.
“We are in turn helping to secure and develop services for children and their families”
Ms Johnson said: “Epilepsy can be extremely frightening for children and their parents and often causes a huge amount of distress. But it is a condition that can be managed.
“If parents, schools and carers have specialist help just a phone call away, offering both reassurance and practical help, it gives them the information and confidence to care for a child with epilepsy effectively,” she said.
“I really enjoy my job, and seeing the difference it makes to children, young people, their families and the trust is very gratifying,” she said.
“My role is an essential part of the epilepsy service here and would and like to see similar roles in as many trusts as possible,” she added.
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Dr Ann McMahon, research and innovation manager at the RCN, said: “We know specialist nurses play a vital role in managing many conditions such as epilepsy, but this study has revealed the enormous benefits they bring not only to patients, but to the trusts they work for and the wider economy.
“It shows that investment in specialist skills could ease pressure on multiple parts of our health and social care system as well as offering better outcomes for patients,” she said.
“By empowering specialist nurses to demonstrate the value of their services in this way, we are in turn helping to secure and develop services for children and their families enabling them to live as full and independent lives as possible,” she added.