Unmanageable caseloads and shortages of staff in district nursing services are compromising quality of care for some patients according to a new report from The King’s Fund.
Although government policy is for more care to be delivered by these types of services, new research carried out for the report found district nursing at breaking point due to a profound and growing gap between capacity and demand.
Activity has increased significantly in recent years both in terms of the number of patients seen and the complexity of the care provided. Whilst the number of nurses working in community health services has declined over recent years, and the number working in senior ‘district nurse’ posts has fallen dramatically over a sustained period.
The report highlights that these pressures are compromising quality of care for some patients; the researchers found evidence of an increasingly task-focused approach to care, staff being rushed and abrupt with patients, reductions in preventive care, visits being postponed and lack of continuity of care.
Although some aspects of staff shortages are being managed well, services are generally over-stretched and heavily reliant on staff good-will. The researchers found that this is having a deeply negative impact on staff wellbeing, with unmanageable caseloads leading to fatigue, stress and in some cases ill health. They heard reports of staff being ‘broken’, ‘exhausted’ and ‘on their knees’, with some leaving the service as a result.
The report makes three key recommendations to address the problems in district nursing services:
- System leaders must recognise the vital strategic importance of community health services in realising ambitions for transforming and sustaining the health and social care system.
- There is an urgent need to create a sustainable district nursing workforce by reversing declining staff numbers, raising the profile of district nursing and developing it as an attractive career.
- Robust mechanisms for monitoring resources, activity and workforce must be developed alongside efforts to look in the round at the staffing and resourcing of community health and care services for the older population.
Anna Charles, Policy Researcher at The King’s Fund said “At its best, district nursing offers an ideal model of person centred, preventive, community-based care. For years, health service leaders have talked about the importance of providing more care in the community, but this objective cannot be achieved when district nursing is at breaking point and a poverty of national data means the quality of services is not properly monitored.
“It is worrying that the people most likely to be affected by this are often vulnerable and also among those who are most likely to be affected by cuts in social care and voluntary sector services. It is even more troubling that this is happening ‘behind closed doors’ in people’s homes, creating a real danger that serious failures in care could go undetected because they are invisible.”
Commenting on the report Kathryn Yates, RCN Professional Lead for Primary and Community Care said “It’s two years since the RCN warned that the district nurse role was in danger of extinction, yet the situation is at least as bad today. District nurses and their teams are being stretched to the point where quality is at risk – and there is no sign that the rise in demand will abate.”