A community nursing organisation has warned of “widespread and significant concerns” over the number of new district nurses being educated.
The Queen’s Nursing Institute has published an investigation into the number of district nurses currently being trained in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It compiled the report from information obtained directly from universities, following growing anecdotal evidence about falling numbers of new nurses being trained.
The QNI warned the numbers being trained are “nowhere near the ‘replacement level’ required to maintain the district nursing workforce”, which has shrunk rapidly over the past 10 years as experienced nurses have left the role, principally through retirement.
It found 21% of district nursing courses in England did not run a cohort in 2012-13 and of those that did at least 67% had 10 students or less – and 13% had only five students or less.
These low numbers call into question the viability of some of the courses being offered, the QNI said.
It has called on education, policy and professional leaders to consider the evidence of the report in future education and workforce planning, and suggests that measures are taken to raise the profile of district nursing as a career.
QNI chief executive Crystal Oldman said: “It is essential that there are enough appropriately qualified and skilled district nurses to provide the care patients and carers need.
“Those responsible for commissioning the local education and training of the community teams need to ensure sufficient numbers of district nurses are being trained each year to meet the current and the anticipated demand for their services.
“This should include raising the profile of district nursing as a stimulating and rewarding career option,” she added.
The findings contrast with the NHS’s supposed direction of travel towards community services and away from those based in hospitals. Expanding community services has been trailed as the answer to growing demands on healthcare provision for a number of years by NHS leaders.
Health Education England, the new body set up by the government to oversee the training and education of NHS staff, has said that at least 50% of student nurses will undertake community placements by March 2015.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This is a very worrying state of affairs, as the need for district nurses now is greater than ever.
“We know that the future health care needs of the country will require a health service which is much better at providing care closer to home, and district nurses play a vital role in this.
“Recent problems in A&E departments are an example of what can happen when support is not available in the community. This means it is important that the district nurse workforce is strengthened to meet these demands,” he said.
“In order to meet the demands of the future we must make sure that people entering training see district nursing as a profession which is well supported and whose important work is fully appreciated,” Mr Carter added.
To compile the report, the QNI contacted the district nursing course leader of every university in England, Wales and Northern Ireland listed with the Nursing and Midwifery Council as an approved provider of the District Nursing (community specialist practitioner) programme.
It requested the numbers of student district nurses on the programme and asked whether there was any concern at the numbers being commissioned currently.
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