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'A specialist qualification in older people's nursing is needed'

Richard Adams
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The NHS Long Term plan has made for interesting reading for many people. Some of us are still waiting for the social care green paper, which some of the long-term plan ambitions, especially those for older people will be dependent on, but that’s another matter.

The long-term plan highlights what many of us know about the nature and demands of an ageing population. The changing nature of this ageing demographic means that older people have increasingly substantial health needs. Noting that one in seven people aged over 85 live in a care home, the plan calls out the number of unplanned admissions from care homes to hospitals and concerns about residents’ needs not being addressed as well as they could be.

In her interview with Nursing Times, England’s chief nursing officer Ruth May, highlighted the ‘big draw’ that the long-term plan places on specialist nurses. This builds on a trend in recent years for increasingly specialist nursing roles, which often seem to have developed around conditions or specific interventions.

Often these specialisms feel largely based in acute hospital care, with community nursing and community based specialisms feeling less prominent in the nursing psyche.

Care home nursing feels even more like the poor relation with few opportunities to connect and collaborate with colleagues across other community and hospital settings.

”This need has never felt more prescient than now”

The momentum around raising the profile of community nursing led by Crystal Oldman and the Queen’s Nursing Institute and the stellar work of Steph Lawrence leading the work on developing the apprenticeship standards for district nursing should sound a clarion call for more nurses to look at their areas of practice and think about the change that they too could bring about.

I have long believed in the need for a specialist qualification in older people’s nursing. This need has never felt more prescient than now.

The long-term plan focuses on the support that older people should get from healthcare professionals. There is a real risk older people will end up feeling ‘done to’ as they passed between an ever-increasing number of specialists, rather than being in control of their care.

To mitigate this risk now is the time for nurses passionate about the care of older people to start to work together and bring about the creation of a nationally recognised older people’s specialist nurse qualification.

Nursing needs to start to respond to the increasing complexity that living longer with multiple-morbidities brings to caring for older people. Nursing older people is a challenging and rewarding and should be celebrated as such. The knowledge and skill base needed to push to the boundaries of practice in this area is as sophisticated as any other specialism.

To challenge the status quo and champion the cause is always the difficult route to take, and so like Crystal and Steph, these nurses will need entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit.

But let’s heed the call and bring this much needed specialist qualification to life. Nurses should shape the integration agenda around the care of older people constructively and ensure that our practice continues to keep the person at the centre and not the condition.

Richard Adams is chief executive officer, Sears Healthcare Ltd

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