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Practice comment

Nurses hold the key to self-care success by supporting patients

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Nurses are vital in delivering the government’s commitment to supporting self-care, says chief nursing officer for England Dame Christine Beasley


Some 15.4 million patients in England live with a long-term condition and numbers are expected to rise to 18 million by 2025. How the NHS copes with this increase poses a significant challenge for us all. In fact, many of you are probably dealing with the issues it raises every day.

Providing high-quality care for increasing numbers of people with long-term conditions is a well-known health priority with senior political support. In January 2008, prime minister Gordon Brown committed to improving the lives of patients with long-term conditions, pledging better support to enable them to take a more active role in decisions about their health and care. Lord Darzi reinforced this message in his NHS Next Stage Review.

Supporting patients to self-care is integral to successfully delivering this commitment, and this is a direct response to what we know patients want. Recent market research by Ipsos Mori showed two-thirds of those surveyed had approached their GP, practice nurse or pharmacist in the previous six months, seeking self-care advice.

To help patients understand what help is available, the Department of Health developed Your Health, Your Way, previously known as the Patient’s Prospectus, which aims to help the public access information about self-care support.

Now it is easier for patients to obtain information, what does this mean for nurses at the forefront of supporting patients to self-care? Many of you already give patients clinical and practical support to help them live their lives to the full. I recognise that nurses themselves need help and support to spread the ethos of supported self-care to a broad range of patients.

In April, the DH (2009) launched a new information booklet, designed to help nurses integrate self-care support and care planning into clinical practice. It was developed with nurses’ input, to be practical and useful for your needs and sets out the approach and benefits of supporting people to self-care. It also outlines the five areas of self-care support in greater detail (see Encouraging and supporting patients living with long-term conditions to self-care).

I believe that with support from the DH, focus from PCTs, and working with GPs, allied health professionals and individual patients, nurses will be a driving force in unlocking the potential of people who choose to self-care.

The booklet is accompanied by an online practical guide to other information sources. These resources are the first step in making nurses ‘armed and ready’ to help patients who want to do more to self-care, as well as encourage those who might not yet feel so confident. Information prescriptions (see have also been developed for 19 conditions.

Essentially, Your Health, Your Way and the self-care philosophy is all about shared responsibility, supporting decision-making and starting conversations. Well-informed patients should not be viewed as a threat, but as individual experts in their own condition.

If we support self-care – making it a success and an essential part of daily life for patients with long-term conditions – the benefits will be considerable. The more informed and supported people are, the more they will manage their own condition and stay well for longer.

Patients will have greater control over their care, which means more confidence and better overall health and well-being. This will become even more important, following the government commitment to offer every patient with a long-term condition a care plan by 2010.

In addition, the NHS will see a reduction in admissions, freeing up of beds and GP and nurse time will be spent more effectively. Nurses in particular will be able to see marked improvements in patients’ conditions by helping them to help themselves; no one could deny the job satisfaction in that.

I believe that with support from the DH, focus from PCTs, and working with GPs, allied health professionals and individual patients, nurses will be a driving force in unlocking the potential of people who choose to self-care.





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