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NHS workforce planners cannot succeed without understanding the value of different nursing roles

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At the RCN Congress in Liverpool this week, some of the most pressing issues facing the nursing profession were on the agenda. In particular, two stories covered by Nursing Times highlighted the need for greater awareness of the value of some nursing roles.

A joint report by the Queen’s Nursing Institute and the RCN, Outstanding Models of District Nursing, raised concerns that the “positive outcomes” achieved by district nurses often go unnoticed and that there is a lack of understanding about the care they provide. It called for a strategy to improve understanding of the role among providers, commissioners and the public.

As the report notes, there has been a 46% drop in the number of district nurses in England since 2010. This means there is a district nursing workforce of 4,000 for a population of 55.8 million – or one nurse for every 14,000 people.

“Those developing workforce policy need an understanding of the work frontline nurses undertake daily”

These nurses care for people with long-term conditions and complex needs, and for older people and those nearing the end of life – groups that are both vulnerable and increasing in number.

Unsurprisingly, the report warned that further investment in district nursing was needed if ambitions laid out in the long-term plan for community services are to be achieved. And given that district nurses prevent many unplanned hospital admissions, their work benefits the whole NHS.

Plans for the NHS workforce are to be set out in the upcoming NHS People Plan – it is vital that this important part of the workforce is adequately taken into account.

Those developing workforce policy need an understanding of the work frontline nurses undertake daily – often in challenging environments; there is always a danger of policy being disconnected from reality, so it is welcome that the report raises these issues.

Meanwhile, another story in Nursing Times this week looked at the adult social care nursing workforce.

Leaders in the sector pointed out that damaging myths needed to be debunked to address workforce shortages, and suggested the responsibilities of the role are often under-estimated. In a move to address these issues, Skills for Care released a report setting out the responsibilities and contribution of registered nurses working in social care, to promote understanding of the specialty and help remove barriers to recruitment and investment.

While nursing faces a plethora of workforce-related challenges, the possibility that people might be put off particular specialties due to misconceptions or a lack of knowledge of the area is one that is relatively easy to tackle.

“The work done by nurses in different specialities should be defined and highlighted”

Both stories serve to remind us that the diversity of nursing roles means the many duties and responsibilities carried out in any given setting are often overlooked. And that also applies to other health professionals.

Raising awareness of particular roles and settings can not only remove a barrier to recruitment, but can also help foster collaboration between different specialties, who in many cases work alongside each other and need to understand what each other does.

With the workforce facing increasing pressures, the work done by nurses in different specialties should be defined and highlighted, and staff should appreciate the benefits of understanding the realities of each other’s role. While only a part of the solution, such improved understanding would be an important step in any workforce planning.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • A process management system in the NHS is what is needed. That would sort this problem.

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