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DH moves to halt decline in district nursing numbers

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The decline in district nurses is on the threshold of being reversed, the outgoing head of the Queen’s Nursing Institute has claimed.

Rosemary Cook spoke to Nursing Times to mark the end of her seven years as director of the charity which works to improve nursing care in people’s homes. In the interview she revealed the Department of Health is working on a strategy to grow the number of district nurses.

Latest figures show that in the year to September 2011 the number of district nurses working in England fell by nearly 10% to 6,937.  

Ms Cook said: “If there was one thing I wanted to achieve [in this job] it would be to reverse the decline in district nursing and I believe we are on the threshold of that. District nurses had been overlooked but now they’re centre stage.”

She told Nursing Times the QNI’s Right Nurse, Right Skills campaign had contributed to the new focus. However, she admitted she wished the institute’s voice had been heard sooner.

The district nursing strategy will include a well-defined model of service, so that patients know what they can expect and commissioners know what they should be delivering. However, there will be no target to increase the number of district nurses in the way there had been for health visitors.

Ms Cook also warned against the increased use of unregistered nursing staff in the community which had led to an overall increase in the size of the community workforce.

She said: “At the moment we are sliding down the scale to a bigger but inexperienced workforce.”

The former DH nursing officer is leaving the QNI to become chief executive of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine. However, she insisted the move was not “turning my back on nursing” but looking at providing care “from a different perspective”.

She said the biggest change for community nurses during her time at the QNI had been the Transforming Community Services programme which saw primary care trusts forced to stop providing services directly. As a result since 2009 community teams moved into acute trusts, mental health trusts or set up on their own as a social enterprise or NHS community trust.

Ms Cook said the biggest challenge for community services in coming years would be integrating with social care and acute services. “We are not going to succeed in bringing care out of hospital unless there are services there,” she added.

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