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Action needed over 'extremely worrying' state of diabetes specialist nursing

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Shortages of specialist diabetes nurses must be tackled urgently to avoid a “ticking time bomb” of poor health among increasing numbers of patients with the condition, a leading nurse in the field has warned.

Nurse consultant Debbie Hicks, co-founder of TREND-UK (Training, Research and Education for Nurses in Diabetes UK), described the current state of diabetes nursing as “extremely worrying”.

“Nurses don’t want to get into diabetes as a speciality… we’ve got to do something before we completely run out”

Debbie Hicks

The specialty’s profile needs to be raised and a new qualification must be developed to tackle “blurred” practice, as part of efforts to bring more nurses into the field, she said.

“We’ve got big problems. There are more people needing help in primary care, but when they’re referred on to see a diabetes specialist nurse, there may not be one.

“These people with diabetes are becoming more complex and we just don’t have the specialist nurses to support them,” said Ms Hicks.

Another concern is the fact many diabetes nurses are due to retire within the next few years, she added.

“I don’t know why nurses don’t want to get into diabetes as a speciality, but we’ve got to do something before we completely run out,” said Ms Hicks who has worked in the field for nearly 30 years.

She also flagged up the findings from the 2017 National Diabetes Inpatient Audit, which found more than a quarter of hospitals do not have dedicated diabetes inpatient specialist nurses.

“I think this is extremely worrying because we know from the report that the amount of people with diabetes who are sat on the wards is rising year-on-year and, if nurses don’t have the right skills, then people with diabetes are not going to get the appropriate care they need,” she said.

“The role of the diabetes specialist nurse has become somewhat blurred over the years”

Debbie Hicks

“With the number of people with diabetes rising and the number of diabetes specialist nurses getting lower, we could be looking at a ticking time bomb of poor health,” she added.

Ms Hicks, who has Type 1 diabetes herself, has published numerous papers on diabetes-related subjects and was a long-standing editor of the Journal of Diabetes.

She currently works within Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust’s diabetes service and is co-chair of TREND-UK.

She said one of the key goals of TREND-UK was to encourage more nurses to enter the field of diabetes care and one solution could be the development of a new specialist qualification.

“Things will only change when we can raise the profile of diabetes specialist nursing,” she said.

“We also want to develop a specific diabetes specialist nursing course and qualification that equips a nurse to become a skilled and competent diabetes specialist nurse.

“We want to develop a specific diabetes specialist nursing course and qualification”

Debbie Hicks

“Until we’ve done that, we are going to have such a variation in knowledge and skills because the role of the diabetes specialist nurse has become somewhat blurred over the years,” she said.

“There are lots of different titles – diabetes nurses, diabetes specialist nurses, practice nurses with a special interest. So how do we ensure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and, more importantly, people with diabetes are receiving the right care?,” added Ms Hicks.

Ms Hicks is among speakers at the Diabetes Professional Care conference in London on November 14 and 15, a few-two-day event that is accredited for continuing professional development.

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