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District nurse decline risks 'tragedy' for patient care


The community and district nursing workforce fell sharply last year, latest figures reveal, sparking fears of a “creeping tragedy” for patient care.

The number of whole time equivalent district nurses in the NHS in England on 30 September 2011 was 6,937 compared with 7,693 the previous year, a drop of 756, according to the annual workforce census.

The figures, published last week by the NHS Information Centre, show the number of community matrons also fell by 83, from 1,552 to 1,469.

The Information Centre noted the data did not include all nurses transferred to independent providers via the transforming community services programme. 

Despite this, the community nursing workforce appears to have born the brunt of cuts to the nursing workforce at a time when the government has said hospital services should be scaled back in favour of more care in the community.

Overall, the figures show the number of registered nurses working in the NHS fell by 3,411 last year to stand at 348,693. The Royal College of Nursing described the drop as “incredibly worrying”.

District nurse numbers have been steadily declining for a decade but last year represents the largest drop in a single year. It follows repeated warnings about shortages of district nurses in recent weeks.

Health minister Simon Burns pledged to write to the Commons health committee with information on the state of the district nursing after concerns were raised in Nursing Times about the government’s failure to promote the specialty alongside its focus on health visiting (news, page 2, 13 March).

In fact the workforce figures also reveal that, despite the national recruitment programme for the profession, the number of health visitors also fell between September 2010 and 2011, by 76 whole time equivalents.

Rosemary Cook, director of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, said the figures “confirm all of our fears about the district nursing workforce”.

“The number of district nurses has been falling steadily for a decade and too little has been done to arrest this decline,” she said. “There are now 36% fewer qualified district nurses than in 2001.

“This could be a creeping tragedy for patient care, in an age where more people live at home with complex, long term conditions.”


Readers' comments (17)

  • King Vulture

    Fewer DNs while there is a push for more care in the community, and also a push to allow people to die at home instead of in hospital, is ABSURD !

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  • Hear, Hear King Vulture. Absurd is the perfect word for it.

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  • John Howes

    I guess we shouldn't fret too much, some management consultant will no doubt make a spreadsheet argument that this can be done equally well by HCA's. This will then be adopted as a significant and innovative way of creating more care in the community for less money!

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  • mandy harper

    It makes your heart bleed watching so much good work dismantling around you.

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  • tinkerbell

    and if you put all these pieces of the jig saw together, view it all from a connected perspective, what does it tell you? It tells me in shouting out capital letters that THEY DON'T CARE.

    Every question as to why, how, what is purely academic now. Welcome to OUR NEW NHS. Don't care in the community, don't care inpatients. Don't care nursing profession, don't care for the working classes and the poor. We will now only be provided for if we can afford it.

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  • Juggling Dog

    tinkerbell | 23-Mar-2012 1:54 pm

    In preparation for killing off PCTs, DN Services have been moving all over the place, some to stand-alone and some to within a variety of larger bodies - I'm guessing that encouraged some DNs to try and find different work, and weakened the voice of those who stayed as DNs ?

    Nurses don't seem to have the loudest of voices, to start with - this disruption may have almsot totally silenced the voice of DNs ?

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  • tinkerbell

    Juggling Dog | 23-Mar-2012 2:39 pm

    Even if nurses did have a voice, which the majority appear not to, it is now beside the point when we remember the tory motto

    'We don't care'. Next question, same answer.

    I use to care, up to 19 March, but not anymore.

    I am waiting for the doctors rally come next election and i will be like some groupie supporting them all the way. I am a child of the 60's. 'Make love, not war' but even i am prepared to do battle over this shower of sh*te and what they have ConDemned us to and the future generations of our society.

    They may have won the battle but they haven't won the war.

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  • District Nurse

    We have been saying this for ages but have been knocked back as being old fashioned even though we know that registered nurses offer far better value for money especially when working alone.

    I am just glad it is eventually being noticed by others. Its not too late but improvement really depends of the 'administration' and that unfortunately is the one area that remains in growth -even though we are constantly told it is being restructured - always seems to mean more managers to tell us how 'it doesn't need a trained nurse to.........'

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  • tinkerbell

    Anonymous | 23-Mar-2012 3:46 pm
    Yeah, they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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  • You can't beat a faceless, anonmous enemy... the government cotrol the purse strings. They tell us what we want to hear, and then do whatever they want to. Cut backs; staff reductions; financial restrictions, more work for those who are left.... the only way to get anywhere in this present situation is to become an mp;Banker; lawyer, or illegal immigrant. then you can take as much as you want,whenevr you want. |Dont believeme? Watch this space....

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