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Exclusive: Community nursing strategy will not set workforce targets

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A government strategy for community nursing is unlikely to include a target for increasing the number of district nurses, despite RCN warnings that the discipline is in danger of dying out, the minister for public health has said.

Speaking exclusively to Independent Nurse, Anne Milton (pictured) confirmed that the government had begun work on a 'vision' for community nursing that would 'redefine' the service, and include a focus on district nurses.

It follows the DH's vision for school nursing, published earlier this year, and last year's Health Visitor Implementation Plan, supported by a target of recruiting 4,200 extra health visitors by 2015.

Former district nurse Ms Milton said there were no plans to introduce a similar recruitment target as part of the community nursing strategy.

'With health visitors, we were picking up a profession that was not just depleted but that was in almost terminal decline,' she said. 'In opposition, we put a figure on what we felt was needed.'

'It is unlikely that we will come up with a specific number for district nurses. We need to look at skill mix. It's a wider remit (than health visiting), and we can't look at district nursing in isolation.'

However, last month RCN policy director Howard Catton warned district nursing could be consigned to history if a ten-year decline in workforce numbers was not urgently addressed.

He welcomed the proposed community nursing strategy, but said it was 'risky' for ministers to rule out a district nurse recruitment target. 'If you don't have a number in mind, how do you ensure people give it sufficient time and energy, or measure whether you've been successful?'he questioned.

Queen's Nursing Institute director Rosemary Cook said it was 'tempting' to call for a target figure, but added: 'Focusing solely on the number of specialist practitioners in district nursing might not be helpful, as there are other forms of preparation that may be just as appropriate but can't be measured as simply.'

The DH said there was no timeline currently in place for the strategy, and added that it was in the process of consulting with nurses, professional organisations and other key stakeholders.

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