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Investment in district nurses is vital for the future of healthcare services

12th July 2013

Ryder E, Bain H (2013) Revitalising district nursing. Br J Comm Nurs 18(7): 317

This editorial begins with a quote from the Department of Health detailing what patients want from the ideal healthcare provider — professionalism, knowledge, and compassion — as well as being able to work with patients to plan holistic care, navigate the healthcare system and be constantly available.

As the authors point out, district nurses have been providing just this type of service for over 150 years, however, recent figures point to a dramatic drop in their numbers. While government sources say this fall has been countered by a rise in ‘other’ community staff, the authors point out that this is causing a fragmentation of roles in the community as well as lack of overall accountability, which could result in serious risk to patients.

It is vital that community knowledge is provided by clinicians who have the appropriate knowledge and skills and the authors are encouraged that recent reports from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Queen’s Nursing Institute reaffirm the value of district nurses as well as emphasising that healthcare in the future needs to be provided closer to home.

The Department of Health has also been keen to acknowledge the role of qualified district nurses and the RCN identifies three domains for future district nursing services:

  • Acute care at home,
  • Complex care at home
  • End-of-life care at home.

In conclusion, the authors note that these developments will only be possible with appropriate district nurse training and support. With all the changes to healthcare across the UK, the authors highlight that workforce planners must invest in district nurses if they want to see effective person-centred care in the community. Without significant investment to ensure a growth in district nurse numbers, the NHS will struggle to provide for patients. 

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