The state of NHS community nursing in England is "lamentable" and placing avoidable additional pressure on other areas of the NHS, nursing leaders have said.
Official figures show the number of district nurses has fallen by 40% in the past decade and the Royal College of Nursing and Queen's Nursing Institute say the situation is adding to the pressure on hospitals.
Unsustainable pressure on A&E
In recent weeks there have been repeated warnings that pressure on hospital emergency departments is unsustainable with attendances rising by 50% in the past decade.
District nurses are key to supporting people in their own homes and avoiding hospital visits so the rise in admissions coinciding with their declining numbers is no surprise for RCN chief Peter Carter.
"With this huge reduction in the numbers of district nurses, while at the same time the massive growth in the population and more and more people with complex conditions, I have to say unfortunately we really are failing people who deserve so much more," added Carter.
Loss of skills in community nursing
Official figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre indicate that a decade ago there were nearly 13,000 NHS district nurses in England. Last year there were fewer than 7,500. Many of those who remain are approaching retirement age.
Community nursing charity the Queen's Nursing Institute also expressed similar worries about the fall in numbers and "the loss of skills and capacity in community nursing teams".
"Qualified district nurses are specialist practitioners in community nursing and are absolutely central to patient-centred care in the NHS," QNI chief executive Crystal Oldman said. "High-quality community nursing services are imperative if we are to support people with long-term conditions to stay in their own homes, rather than be admitted to hospital."
Overall number of community nurses up
Responding to the criticism, NHS England said although district nurse numbers had fallen, the overall number of community nurses - including other types of staff - had increased by more than 8%.
"What is important is getting the right staff to deliver the services patients require" an NHS spokesperson added. "To achieve this commissioners need to have clear and robust plans for community nursing services, both now and in the future."
Posted 23/5/13 by firstname.lastname@example.org