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District nursing in decline with threat of extinction by 2025, health experts warn

By The Citizen  |  Posted: June 17, 2014

Leader of Royal College of Nursing Dr Peter Carter meets community hospital nurses in Gloucestershire.

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District nursing could become a thing of the past as soon as 2025 according to a report by the Royal College of Nursing warns in a report published today. (Tuesday)

Official figures show that numbers working in the NHS in England have almost halved, from 12,620 in 2003 to 6,656 last year, a 47 per cent drop in a decade.

That fall is so serious that they are now a ‘critically endangered’ type of health professional, the nurses' union claims.

District nurses visit patients at home to give chemotherapy to those with cancer, ensure diabetics get regular doses of insulin and help the dying end their days as painlessly as possible.

They can visit patients several times a day if necessary, and help keep people out of hospital unnecessarily.

The decline in district nursing has occurred despite demand for services increasing – because of the ageing population, a growing number of people with lifestyle-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, pressure on hospital beds and a drive to provide more services outside hospital.

Dr Peter Carter, the chief executive of the college, said: “The district nurse role is the foundation of a system which should be able to manage conditions and keep sick and frail people at home.

“Remove those foundations and the whole edifice could come crashing down.”

The college's annual congress in Liverpool debated calls from some nurses for drunk patients to be treated somewhere other than A&E units because they can be disruptive and mean staff have less time to spend with other patients.

Some parts of the NHS have experimented with alcohol recovery centres, ‘drunk tanks’ and ‘booze buses’ to keep inebriated people away from hospitals.

But Dr Carter said that, while he supported pilot projects to assess the viability of such schemes, the risk of a drunk patient dying as a result of having the head injury they had suffered in a fall being misdiagnosed and need to give them proper diagnostic tests meant that the scope for diverting drunks may well prove to be limited.

He said: “When someone is inebriated, just thinking 'They're drunk; let's put them in a bus or something', the problem with that is that if they have fallen over and got a subdural haematoma or some other condition, they could die.”.

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