A report from the King’s Fund warns that the district nursing service in England is at "breaking point" due to falling numbers of district nurses.
District nursing plays a key role in caring for the elderly and those with disabilities and long-term illnesses by providing support in their own homes. As well as district nurses, the service includes community matrons and other nurses.
The reported figures reveal that district nurse numbers have fallen by 28% in the past five years to just under 6,000. This insufficient staffing results in unmanageable workloads for existing nurses and delays and fewer visits for patients, often putting the frail and vulnerable at risk.
The NHS says that attempts are being made to attract nurses back into the community and training places for district nurses were increasing.
Lucie Prothero, who specialises in elderly care cases within the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, comments: “We are seeing an increasing number of enquiries from families of older patients, or those with long-term conditions or disabilities, who are concerned about the way their relatives have been cared for in the community or in hospital.
“District nurses and community matrons play a vital role in supporting these patients in their own homes and ensuring their quality of life and independence is maintained as much as possible. But inadequate staffing levels can result in poor standards of care and errors being made, due to lack of time and infrequency of visits. In some cases, the consequences of this can be serious, such as patients suffering falls, dehydration, malnourishment or pressure sores. This can then result in avoidable hospital admissions which put further pressure on the NHS. Ensuring that the district nursing service is adequately funded and nurses are being trained into this area must be an NHS priority.”