NHS: District Nurses — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:22 am on 10th July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Wheeler Baroness Wheeler Opposition Senior Whip (Lords) 11:22 am, 10th July 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that the National Health Service has sufficient district nurses.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, the Department of Health is working with Health Education England, NHS England and the Queen’s Nursing Institute to raise the profile of district and community nursing and to attract more nurses to choose this as a career path. That work includes a workforce project led by the Community Nursing Strategy Programme to ensure an adequate supply of highly skilled district nurses to support patients in community settings, provide quality care and improve patient outcomes.

Photo of Baroness Wheeler Baroness Wheeler Opposition Senior Whip (Lords)

I thank the Minister for his response. Does he not agree that the failure to address the chronic shortage of district nurses makes the RCN’s call to action even more urgent? The college has found that district nurses are so stretched that they can spend only 37% of their time actually dealing with patients in the community, which is deeply worrying. How does this help people with long-term conditions who depend on specialist nursing care to stay out of hospital? When is a comprehensive strategy that addresses the urgent action which needs to be taken on this matter going to be published?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, we recognise the need for urgent action, and that it is required across the piece. We need to train more district nurses, and therefore training places have gone up both last year and this year. We also need to equip district nurses with technology. To that end, the nursing technology fund will address the issue that the noble Baroness referred to initially, which is the time that nurses have to spend with their patients. Technology can make time management much more efficient, and it is also good for the patient, who feels more in touch. NHS England and Health Education England have set up a workforce project which, as I said in my initial Answer, is designed to address not only workforce numbers but also the attractiveness of district nursing to trainees.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, there has been a 47% reduction in district nurses over the previous 10 years. Does the Minister agree that if we are to have real integration of health and social care, then commissioners, NHS England and Health Education England should prioritise support for district nurses and community posts, not least to reduce the pressure on hospital beds?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

These matters are locally determined by commissioners, but my noble friend makes a valid point. It is important to understand that district nursing services involve qualified district nurses leading and supporting multidisciplinary teams which often include staff nurses, community nurses and healthcare assistants, working with allied health professionals. We also need to recognise that social care relies on the same pool of registered nurses for local authority-funded care, and in fact nurses employed by local authorities are not counted in the statistics.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I recently came across a district nursing service which had been contracted out to the private sector, to the considerable confusion of some of the patients using it. Does the Minister have the figures for how many district nursing services have been contracted out in this way?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I do not have the figures, but of course this process started under the previous Government with the “Transforming Community Services” programme, which very often hived off the community provision into social enterprises. If I have statistics on this I will gladly send them to the noble Baroness.

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I recently received a letter from a lady whose daughter has ME and is confined to bed. She is under the age of 16, and was given a male care assistant who would not perform certain tasks for her. When her mother went to the surgery to ask if a district nurse could come and do those tasks, she was told no because the girl was under 16. Is this correct?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I am happy to look into that case, but clearly we need to ensure that there are the right skills for the right patients, and this is what the health service increasingly aims to achieve. The district nursing team has to contain those multidisciplinary skills. If there is a case of someone being inappropriately looked after, then that is certainly a cause for concern.

Photo of Baroness Manzoor Baroness Manzoor Liberal Democrat

My Lords, nearly 50% of district nurses are over the age of 50. I heard what the Minister said regarding the number of nurses in training but perhaps the numbers could be looked at again, because quite a number of district nurses will soon be retiring.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My noble friend makes a good point, and this was highlighted by the royal college. Health Education England was established precisely to ensure a greater connection between the needs and demands of local employers and the education and training commissions which are made. It takes into account all the relevant variables, such as the age profile of the workforce, to ensure that it sets the appropriate number of training places for district nurses to meet future capacity and capability service needs. As I mentioned earlier, Health Education England has in fact increased the number of training places for district nurses by 7% this year, to 431 places.