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Do not allow district nursing to die out

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District nurses need an implementation plan too District nurses need an implementation plan too

Last week, the DH hosted an event, attended by health secretary Andrew Lansley, health minister Anne Milton and Viv Bennett, the department's director of nursing, to showcase the achievements of 26 Early Implementer Sites, delivering the health visitor implementation plan 2011-15.

Published last year, this detailed a 'call to action to expand and strengthen health visiting services'. It is supported by a target to increase health visitor numbers by 4,200 by 2015.

The event celebrated innovation. Work is being done to bridge gaps between health visitors, GPs and children's centres; boost breastfeeding support; establish safeguarding workshops; and develop maternal mental health services.

So while it would be premature to say that all looks rosy in health visiting, progress is being made and workforce numbers are heading in the right direction.

There is a less happy outlook for other nursing disciplines: school nurses have voiced concerns that March's Vision and model for school nursing made no reference to increasing workforce numbers, despite greatly extending the role and remit of the school nurse.

And district nursing is, to put it frankly, in dire straights. Last month (IN, 2 April), RCN policy director Howard Catton warned that an ongoing decline in district nurse numbers has the potential to 'wipe out the district nursing workforce in a decade'.

Despite this, ministers have no plans to set targets for district nurse recruitment. 'With health visitors, we were picking up a profession that was not just depleted but was in almost terminal decline,' said Ms Milton, explaining why there is a target for health visitors but for no-one else.

This makes little sense: district nursing is in real trouble. Ministers must commit to boosting the workforce and how can this be done without focused targets of some kind?

Sarah Wild, editor, Independent Nurse

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