I was truly heartened to see Jeremy Hunt's Christmas message of thanks to the NHS staff on 23 December 2013 (www.gov.uk/government/speeches/jeremy-hunt-thanks-to-nhs-staff).
He highlighted district nurses with the following: 'Finally, I would like to say a particular thank you to district nurses who will be spending the festive period visiting vulnerable and often lonely older people. You do an inspiring job not just over Christmas but throughout the year and we need more of you!'
It is a real achievement that the secretary of state for health has singled out the work of district nurses for recognition - and importantly, he has also pointed to the shortage of district nurses and the need to increase our number. This is encouraging as we begin the new year facing the same problems as last year - an increasing number of older people in our communities needing more complex care than ever before.
The district nursing service supports many patient groups, not just the elderly. District nurses - and general practice nurses too - are supporting patients discharged early from hospital to be cared for in their homes and communities. This relieves the pressure in overstretched hospital environments and supports those who need it where they most wish to be cared for.
District nurse teams also care for people who choose to be at home as they near the end of their lives. This applies to adults of all ages and increasingly district nurses tell the QNI that this is an area of their work they wish to expand in order to meet patients' and families' wishes.
Now that Jeremy Hunt has recognised the need for more district nurses, the question is: how many will be needed in order to meet the changing needs of the patient population and the shift of care to the community?
To provide an answer, the QNI plans to work on this over the coming year and to propose, with empirical evidence, a way of profiling the district nurse team to assist commissioners in meeting the challenge of delivering home and community care to patients in 2014 and beyond.