Suffolk: Fears skills are being watered down by rise in unregistered district nurses

Fall in registered district nurses

Fall in registered district nurses - Credit: IAN BURT

HEALTH officials have warned patients’ quality of care is under threat, after figures showed the number of unregistered district nurses tripled in a year as registered nurse numbers fell.

The research, conducted by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), revealed there were 144 unregistered district nurses in October 2012.

This is a 200% increase from 48 in October 2011, when unregistered nurses counted for 18%.

After registered district nurses figures fell by 8% in the same 12-month period – from 216 to 199 – unregistered district nurse numbers now stand at 42%.

RCN director for the eastern region, Karen Webb, said she was worried the mix of nursing skills was being “watered down”.

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She said: “We are concerned to see that in Suffolk it appears the district nursing skill mix is being watered down, with cuts to the numbers of registered nurses and a big rise in the number of healthcare assistants.

“Our concern would be that a service relying heavily on healthcare assistants is about cutting costs and not about high-quality patient care.”

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The Government’s health reforms and NHS savings plans are based on moving patient care out of acute hospitals and into the community.

But Mrs Webb said: “That shift will be very difficult to achieve when district nursing is being cut and the skill mix of community nursing may mean that unregistered nursing staff are being left to cope on their own with little supervision from registered district nurses.”

A spokesman for private firm Serco, which has run Suffolk’s community health services since October last year, said: “The figures provided by the RCN cover the period up until October 12, before Serco took over responsibility for community healthcare in Suffolk, so we cannot comment.”

More than 30 community nurses have been under threat of being axed since November, as Serco said it intended to invest in technology and increase efficiency.

Unison regional organiser Tim Roberts said: “Serco have yet to provide assurances they will be able to deliver services which they are promising as they set out to cut staffing levels.”

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