The government’s failure to promote district nursing alongside its national focus on boosting health visitor numbers has proved to be an area of “weakness”, a senior nurse at the Department of Health has admitted.
Deputy chief nursing officer for England David Foster acknowledged that falling numbers of district nurses remained an issue that needed tackling at a nursing workforce conference last week.
Their numbers dropped below 10,000 in England during 2010, prompting the Queen’s Nursing Institute to warn that district nurses were becoming an “endangered species”.
This downward trend has continued, despite government rhetoric about the need to transfer care from acute settings into the community.
In a conference question and answer session, Mr Foster was asked by QNI director Rosemary Cook why the government had focussed on health visitors but not district nurses, at a time when it wanted to move care out of hospitals.
Prime minister David Cameron has pledged to recruit an extra 4,200 health visitors over the four years from 2011.
Mr Foster replied: “I agree, I don’t know why it hasn’t been such a priority focus. I recognise that appears to be a weakness.
“The thing that has driven the health visitors is a particular prime minister wish,” he told delegates at the Reshaping the Nursing Workforce conference in London.
He said the new body Health Education England, which from October will start to take control of training and workforce planning, would look at the issue of district nursing numbers.
Jim Buchan, professor in workforce policy at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University, warned delegates that community nursing faced a “looming challenge”, because so many staff were approaching retirement.
Presenting findings from a study published last year, he added: “We’re on the cusp of a reduction in the [overall] number of nurses working in the NHS.”
- Cutting back on district and community nurse numbers to try and save money is a “false economy”, a nursing academic has warned.
University of Huddersfield senior lecturer in primary care Vicky Kaye argued that any attempts by trusts to cut district nurses were short sighted. “They actually offer exceptionally good value, because they combine clinical, leadership and management skills,” she said.
Ms Kaye, a former district nurse in Bradford, made the comments following her successful application to become a Queen’s Nurse.