Ensuring the district nursing role does not die out

Adobe Spark (2)Recent figures published by the Welsh Government have revealed a 42% reduction in the number of district nurses in Wales between 2009 and 2015 (BBC News, 2016). The number of district nurses has fallen from 712 in 2009 to 412 in 2015, with six of the seven health boards in Wales reporting a reduction.

This follows trends seen in England in recent years, which has reported a 47% reduction in the number of qualified district nursing staff in the past decade (Royal College of Nursing (RCN), 2014). Frequent figures such as these have resulted in a warning from the RCN that district nurses are ‘critically endangered’ and face possible extinction by the end of 2025 (RCN, 2014). Consequently, it has called on the Government to fulfil its commitment to increase the number of community staff to 10000 by 2020.

Origins of district nursing

The district nursing role originated in 1859, when a wealthy Liverpool merchant, William Rathbone, employed a private hospital-trained nurse to care for his dying wife. He was struck by ‘the great comfort and advantage derived from trained nursing, even in a home where everything which unskilled affection could suggest was provided.’ Following the death of his wife, Rathbone set up a training home in Liverpool to give nurses the skills necessary to treat patients in the home.

The title came from the fact that Liverpool was split into 18 districts based on the parish system, so the nurses became known as ‘district nurses’.

There is little research, but a publication from the Department of Health revealed that more than 2.6 million people receive care from district nurses each year, in England and Wales alone, according to statistics gathered nationally (Department of Health, 2004). It is anticipated that this number will only increase.

Due to the increasing elderly population and number of people with long-term conditions, district nurses make a notable contribution to the NHS. Having specially qualified staff who are trained to deliver care to patients in their own homes, should reduce pressures on GP surgeries and emergency departments. However, the shortage of district nurses means many feel they are being pushed to breaking point. Reports of regular additional hours, activities left undone due to lack of time and a desire to leave the job are not uncommon.

The RCN have said the reduced numbers of district nurses has placed extra pressure on GP surgeries and emergency departments. Increases in caseloads from 30 patients to up to 150 means contact time is kept to an absolute minimum. This results in patients not receiving the appropriate care they need and therefore feeling they require further consultation by their GP or at the emergency department.

The future vision of district nurses

In 2009, The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) published its 2020 Vision of the future of district nursing (QNI, 2009). It marked the 150 year anniversary of district nurses and highlighted their role in health care. Fundamentally, the principles of district nursing have changed little in 150 years and consist of ‘better care, closer to home’, ‘patient choice’, ‘integrated care’, and ‘co-production’ (QNI, 2009). As a specialism, district nurses are ‘practitioners, partners and leaders’ of care in the home (QNI, 2009).

Some of the issues identified in the QNI report surrounding district nurses included: ‘loose use of the title, wide variations in pay banding and career structure, reduction in leadership opportunities and lack of recognition of the value of their specialist education’ (QNI, 2009).

It is important to highlight that there is a notable difference between nursing found in clinics, surgeries and other areas of primary care; and that found in patients’ homes. It is for this reason that the district nursing role remains an important part of the NHS.

The British Journal of Community Nursing and the QNI carried out a survey in 2008, gathering information and views from district nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland about the state of their specialism. The survey found that 13% of respondents’ employing organisations no longer use the title ‘district nurse’ at all. It also revealed that in those organisations that still use the title, more than 30% do not limit its use to those with a district nurse qualification (QNI, 2009). In some cases, the title was given to team leaders or case managers, with or without the qualification. Additionally, the survey revealed that only 48% of employing organisations continue to require district nursing team leaders to have the district nursing specialist practitioner qualification. Another 19%, who did at the time the report was published, plan to discontinue this requirement.

A follow-up report from the QNI published 5 years after the 2020 Vision, revealed an increase in the level of confusion about job titles, qualifications and roles concerning district nurses (QNI, 2014). As a result, one of the key recommendations of the the report was for a renewed investment in the district nursing specialist practitioner qualification.

Focus surrounding qualifications for district nurses was raised at the most recent RCN Congress, which passed a resolution calling on RCN council to lobby for all district nurse caseload holders to have the relevant specialist practitioner qualification (Ford, 2016). This arose amid concerns over the future of the district nursing role and its protected title. The Forum called for a practitioner who is ‘equipped with skills to manage a role that is highly complex and requires skills in negotiating, coaching, teaching and effective team management’ (Ford, 2016).

The current climate

The situation surrounding the place and role of district nurses within the NHS has gradually changed over the years. For example, it is no longer the sole role to be found delivering nursing care in the home as there are now a multitude of community roles working at different levels. The issue with this is that the meaning attributed to the district nurses’ unique title has eroded somewhat. As mentioned, some employers are using the title without the accompanying specialist qualification, further muddying the waters. District nurses are excellently placed to offer leadership over other health professionals in the home. However, if they have not received adequate training they will struggle to have the strong leadership skills required.

Within Simon Stevens’ Five Year Forward View he called for the introduction of a new care model known as Multispecialty Community Providers. One of the benefits of this model is to allow for the expansion of primary care leadership to include nurses and other community-based professionals. This new way of delivering care and ability to offer a wider scope of services is made possible by allowing the formation of extended group practices as federations, networks or single organisations.

Conclusions

District nurses offer a much-valued service to the NHS through their ability to treat large numbers of people at home, allowing patients to avoid having to go to hospital if they receive the appropriate level of care first-time around. However, this is only possible if the number of district nurses does not continue to fall. The reality is that those still in the role are under increasing pressure, as they find their workloads ever-increasing. The Government must fulfil its commitment to increase the number of community staff, and in particular, the number of district nurses.

Now, more than ever, is the time to reinstate the district nurse.

References

BBC News (2016) Royal College of Nursing concern over fall in district nurses in Wales. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-36828072 (accessed 17 August 2016)

Department of Health (2004) Patient Care in the Community: NHS District Nursing Summary Information for 2003–04, England. The Stationery Office, London. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130107105354/http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/documents/digitalasset/dh_4092113.pdf (accessed 17 August 2016)

Ford S (2016) All district nurses ‘should have specialist qualification’. Nursing Times. http://www.nursingtimes.net/news/community/all-district-nurses-should-have-specialist-qualification/7005789.fullarticle (accessed 18 August2016)

Health Education England (2015) District Nursing and General Practice Nursing Service Education and Career Framework. HEE, London. https://hee.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/documents/District%20nursing%20and%20GP%20practice%20nursing%20framework_0.pdf (accessed 17 August 2016)

Royal College of Nursing (2014) District nurses face ‘extinction’ in 2025. RCN, London. https://www2.rcn.org.uk/newsevents/press_releases/uk/district_nurses_face_extinction_in_2025 (accessed 17 August 2016)

The Queen’s Nursing Institute (2009) 2020 Vision: Focusing on the Future of District Nursing. QNI, London. http://www.qni.org.uk/docs/2020_Vision.pdf (accessed 15 August 2016)

The Queen’s Nursing Institute (2014) 2020 Vision Five Years On: Reassessing the Future of District Nursing. http://www.qni.org.uk/docs/2020_Vision_Five_Years_On_Web1.pdf (accessed 15 August 2016)

The Queen’s Nursing Institute, NHS England (2014) Developing a National District Nursing Workforce Planning Framework: A Report Commissioned by NHS England. https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/dn-wfp-report-0414.pdf (accessed 15 August 2016)

Taken from British Journal of Community Nursing, published 2 September 2016.

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Francis calls for cultural change

The public enquiry report chaired by Robert Francis QC concerning the standards of hospital care provided at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust has emphasized a need for cultural change within the NHS.

The 3-volume, 1782-page report highlighted the failure of the NHS system to detect poor quality care and to ensure that services meet the standards that the public expects. This failure to communicate concerns illustrates a betrayal of the trust that members of the public should be able to place in the NHS.

Francis called for a patient-centred culture, which has a commitment to serve and protect patients. His recommendations for achieving this include: a structure of fundamental standards, which identify the basic standards of care a patient can expect; an openness and statutory duty of doctors and nurses to be truthful with patients; compassionate, caring and committed nursing; and stronger healthcare leadership.

The report includes a number of recommendations for changing nursing training, regulation and professional support that, if implemented, will have an impact on nurses in all sectors of the NHS, including practice nurses. Francis identified that nurses are at the heart of patient-centred care, and stressed that training standards need to be strenghthened to ensure that qualified nurses are competent to deliver compassionate care to a consistent standard. These principles apply to nurses working in all sectors of the NHS.

‘Nurses throughout the NHS will feel devastated at the picture of poor and unsafe care that took place at Mid Staffordshire,’ said RCN president Andrea Spyropoulos. ‘What commentators often forget is that no one is more saddened or frustrated by stories of poor care than nursing staff themselves.’

The report has important implications for nursing leaders, particularly for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). Francis found that nursing needs a stronger voice. According to the report, this can be achieved through strengthening nursing representation in the leadership of all provider organizations, enhancing the links with their professional regulators, and introducing a better appraisal system. It was also recommended that the RCN consider splitting its trade union and professional functions.

Taken from Practice Nursing, published 18 Feb 2013.

Legislation to be amended to extend use of PGDs

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Department of Health are amending medicines legislation to enable the continued use of patient group directions (PGDs) in the new organizational structures of the health system.

A PGD is a legal mechanism that allows named registered health professionals to supply and/or administer medicines to groups of patients that fit the criteria laid out in the PGD.

As a result of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, a number of NHS bodies that can currently authorize PGDs—in particular, primary care trusts (PCTs) in England—will no longer exist from April 2013. The aim of the amended medicines legislation is to enable clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and local authorities to authorize PGDs.

The legislative amendments will also ensure that existing PGDs will continue to be legal after their expiry on 31 March 2013 and until CCGs or local authorities are able to put in place new systems for authorizing them.

Rebecca Cheatle, primary and community healthcare adviser at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), sits on the Department of Health’s PGDs committee. Ms Cheatle told Practice Nursing: “Revisions to the Medicines Act will ensure that practice nurses [and other health professionals] using existing PGDs are not working outside the law after 31st March 2013.”

Gillian Champion, co-chair, Exeter sub-locality CCG, said: “This information is long overdue and is somewhat lacking in detail. Nurses need to know who is going to keep them updated, who is going to authorise new PGDs. While these arrangements are being set up, practice nurses will be left professionally unsupported.”

Revised guidance and a framework of competencies for the use of PGDs are due for publication in April 2013, taking into account the changes to legislation and organizational structures. In the meantime, the National Prescribing Centre’s 2009 guidance on PGDs remains valid.

Taken from Practice Nursing, published 21 Jan 2013.