The number of district nurses who have qualified with a specialist practitioner qualification (SPQ) has dropped by 6% in a year, new research has shown.
This week the Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) published findings from its review into district nurse education across the UK for the 2021-22 academic year.
The audit found that there are 32 universities currently registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to deliver the district nursing SPQ programme.
A further five universities are delivering programmes and awaiting revalidation using the new NMC post-registration standards.
The QNI review revealed that 668 district nurses qualified with a SPQ in 2021-22 – a 6% drop compared to the previous year.
Meanwhile, 647 new students enrolled on the district nursing SPQ for 2022-23, with 54 in England on the apprenticeship route, representing a 9% drop compared to the previous year.
The QNI also surveyed universities for further information about district nursing education provision, and received responses from 33 of them.
Respondents shared widespread and ongoing concerns over central government funding of the district nursing SPQ.
The QNI said community service providers and higher education institutions were navigating an unclear future where district nursing apprenticeships and centrally funded places “needed to be carefully balanced”.
The findings come amid new targets set out in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which has promised to increase district nursing training places by 150% by 2031-32.
“The number of qualified district nurses is a key component of the workforce”
The plan has also promised to increase the current number of student nurses training through apprenticeships from 9% to 28% by 2031-32.
The QNI warned that, at present, there were “insufficient” district nurses and that this was hampering plans to deliver more care in the community.
It said that, if the ambitions to grow the district nursing workforce were to be realised, there needed to be year on year increases in univeristy places and a focus on retention as well as recruitment.
It warned that without taking these steps, there would be a shortfall of district nurses and that this would have “detrimental impacts on the healthcare of the UK’s growing and ageing population”.
This was echoed in a recent report by Age UK, which warned that the lack of district and community nurses has caused an increase in the number of older people who are being admitted and readmitted to hospital.
Crystal Oldman, QNI chief executive, said: “Longer term visions for the growth of the NHS workforce are to be encouraged and the number of qualified district nurses is a key component of the workforce.”
Dr Oldman said that the organisation was concerned that the NHS Agenda for Change banding of many qualified district nurses “does not reflect the complexity of care they deliver, which is at an advanced level of practice”.
She added: “The [district nursing] SPQ is an educational programme designed for the community setting and it should be integral to the government’s plans to increase the number of skilled, registered practitioners in the community.”
It comes as the QNI this week launched a new set of standards for education institutions delivering SPQ programmes in six fields of community nursing practice, including district nursing.