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Community workforce overburdened and in decline

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Around 90 per cent of community nurses say their caseload has increased over the past 12 months, leaving primary care overburdened and in need of investment, RCN research has revealed.

A survey of the RCN's community members found six in 10 feel they are spending less time with patients than they did a year ago, raising concerns about community nursing's current and future capacity in the face of an ageing population. Just 6 per cent of respondents said they 'always have time to meet the needs of their patients'.

Speaking at the RCN's Annual Congress in Harrogate last week, health secretary Andrew Lansley maintained that transferring care from hospitals to community settings remained government policy, pointing to the Health Visitor Implementation plan as an example of investment in the community workforce. The plan involves recruiting an extra 4,200 health visitors by 2015.

However, RCN general secretary Dr Peter Carter said the government's desire to see more care delivered in the community was little more than 'a facade'.

'We know nurse numbers, in particular district nurse numbers, are going down,' he said. 'But ministers are also not coming to terms with the fact that workload is rising exponentially. Even if staffing stayed the same, there would still be problems handing workload.'

Mr Lansley failed to provide an assurance that district nursing would receive investment, despite warnings from delegates that the discipline is in decline. Independent Nurse revealed earlier this month that the government's forthcoming vision for community nursing is unlikely to include a specific target for district nurse recruitment.

District nurse manager Kay Durrant, chair of the RCN's District Nursing Forum, said:'We've been a declining workforce now for 10 years. A significant number of qualified district nurses are going to retire. There was a warning nearly 15 years ago this was going to happen and a need for investment in district nurses.'

She added: 'It would be lovely for the government to turn around and say we will give you 3,000 more qualified district nurses. That would be showing their commitment.'

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