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'Who will step up and lead community nurse drive?'

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Health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the assembled audience of nurse leaders at last week’s chief nursing officer for England’s summit in Manchester that nursing, and in particular community nursing, was vital to the success of the Five-Year Forward View for the NHS.

Mr Hunt spoke about the need to switch the focus of the NHS to a different model of care that is based around “keeping people healthy and happy at home” and trying to prevent them from developing long-term conditions, such as diabetes (see page 2).

While he said that the NHS will always need “fantastic hospitals” and the beds that they have at the moment, he said that the service needs “more district nurses, more practice nurses, more community nurses. We need a big, big push on nursing in the community”.

In London, the day before Mr Hunt addressed the summit, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing Peter Carter was telling the health select committee that the government had cut the number of district nurses from 12,000 in 2003 to 5,595 in August 2014. His theory is the push to get 4,200 extra health visitors by April 2015 has led to the sacrifice of district nurse numbers.

It’s all very well telling community nurses they are important, but Mr Hunt seems to be addressing fewer and fewer of them as their numbers decline. What we need is a campaign to attract community nurses, which will also support, train and retain them.

The health secretary knows that district nurses are under enormous pressure because they are under-resourced. At the CNO Summit, Mr Hunt highlighted that when district nurses are only given 15 minutes to do everything in a patient’s home, they can’t take care of that person properly, and this, he said, must change.

So what’s being done to boost the numbers of nurses working in the community? These staff are the linchpin to ensuring the public stays well and prevents them from needing other NHS services.

NHS leaders and politicians all acknowledge we need more community nurses. But who is actually going to take responsibility for making it happen?

In a session on safe staffing levels at the CNO Summit, one delegate said that they suspected the next “Mid Staffs” could happen in the community. Many felt that it possibly already was. The time is now to put this right and resource community nursing teams properly - for now and the future NHS.

Jenni Middleton, editor Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed

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