Elderly face 'revolving door' hospital care under nursing cuts

The union is branding Government efforts to provide more care out of hospitals - to reduce cases of ‘bed blocking’ and enable people tolive more independently - as a “façade” due to the cuts.

Numbers of community nurses – a catch-all term for district nurses,healthcare workers, school nurses and others – have dropped by 3.5 per cent the peak in 2009, according to an RCN survey, with the profession losing about 1,700 posts across England.

Peter Carter, the organisation’s chief executive and general secretary, said this came as demand was increasing due to an ageing population.

He said NHS trusts were having to make “short sighted cuts” which would “inevitably” affect patient care.

Dr Carter said the health service was “struggling to keep people out of hospital because of pressures on the community, and it is struggling to discharge them with support when they leave”.

He warned: “Very soon, patients will be left with nowhere to turn.

This is a revolving door for patients, but it also represents a false economy at a time when there is no money to spare.

“We want care to be delivered closer to home, and we want community nurses to be empowered to keep their patients out of hospital, but at the moment this shift in the way care is delivered is simply a facade, with the community struggling to cope with the workload it has now, let alone the one it faces in the future.

“This is a harsh reminder that both acute and community care are overloaded and the staffing levels are so low in both that there can be nowhere for patients to turn.”

Dr Carter was speaking as the RCN’s annual congress opened in Harrogate, Yorkshire.

The number of community nurses increased substantially between 2001 and 2009, reflecting increased investment in the NHS, rising by more than a quarter from 37,000 to the peak of 48,100. By 2011 they had slipped back to 46,400, down 3.5 per cent.

Although the reduction is fairly modest, a new report by the RCN, published today (MON), warns: “This decline in numbers makes no sense at a time when there is an ageing population, and increasing numbers of people living with long term and chronic conditions, who need to be cared for in their homes and communities.”

In addition, not all sub-specialities have fared equally well over the last decade: the numbers of district nurses has actually fallen by a third, from 10,500 in 2001 to just under 7,000 in 2011.

Nurses warned they were now so busy that they had little time to do anything but the basic tasks, and little to talk to see how their patients felt.

Responding in a survey of 2,700 nurses conducted by the RCN, one said: “We need more time with patients to discuss and observe the other problems they are encountering...you cannot do this if you are rushing to between 15 and 20 different houses in seven hours.”

The survey, conducted last month, found only six per cent said they always had time to meet the needs of their patients, while nine in 10 said their caseload had increased over the last year.

Simon Burns, the Health Minister, said he did not recognise the RCN's figures.

"Official statistics show that there are only 450 fewer qualified nursing staff in England than in September 2009 while the number of managers has been slashed by 15 per cent," he said.

He said the Government was giving nurses "more time to care" and claimed: "The Health and Social Care Act will make shifting care out of hospitals and closer to people's homes simpler."

Sourced from The Telegraph, 14th May 2012.