The end of September is upon us, department stores are already stocking Christmas decorations and health policy experts are warning that winter is on the way.
How will the NHS fare this time round? Who can say, but the chances are it will not prove any easier than last year for nurses and their colleagues in the health service.
Last week, a leading doctor explained the problem quite neatly in business terminology, noting that patients trusted the “A&E brand” in spite of the other services on offer.
Dr Clifford Mann suggested all emergency departments should in the future have primary care services located alongside them with links to district nursing teams, if the NHS was to cope with the increasing pressures facing it.
The idea is worth considering, as are the various models for more integrated health and social care services being tried around the country under NHS England’s “vanguard” programme.
The key role that nurses can play in such care models, especially in community settings, was highlighted this week by the Queen’s Nursing Institute and its sister organisation in Scotland. They published new standards for district nursing education and practice designed to ensure nurses are equipped to play a leading role in a “new era” of healthcare provision.
“Never has the specialist expertise of the district nursing service been more central to the provision of health and care in the UK. There is a clear policy shift to community-based, integrated health and social care,” says the QNI document.
They are absolutely right, but caution is needed. Also last week, the Care Quality Commission published a critical report on community services in Gloucestershire - among more high-profile critiques on the acute sector. Gloucestershire Care Services Trust was told to ensure appropriate staffing and skill mix, after healthcare assistants were found to be assessing patients in its minor injuries unit “without adequate training or supervision”. Read the full story on nursingtimes.net.
Without adequate numbers and proper training, community nursing teams will be unable to fulfil any of the ambitious plans.
Winter is coming - and it may be a long one if the NHS fails to seize the opportunity to develop properly resourced community nursing services.
Steve Ford, news editor
Follow me on Twitter @SteveJFord
● Jenni Middleton is on holiday