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NHSE merger halts plan to boost district nurses

Published on: 5 Jun 2023

Plans to procure more district nursing courses to start this September have been paused because of the merger of Health Education England into NHS England, HSJ understands.

An email sent last month from a commissioning officer at NHSE’s workforce, training and education directorate – the new HEE – said procurement of new district nursing courses from universities would be paused “until further notice”, due to the “ongoing merger”.

HSJ understands that existing contracts between the NHS and universities will be rolled over, but any new programmes would not be able to start in September as hoped. Sources involved in the procurement said the impact of this “cannot be underestimated”.

Since 2009, the number of district nurses working in the English NHS has fallen drastically, from around 7,000 to around 3,900.

Steph Lawrence, executive director of nursing and allied health professionals at Leeds Community Healthcare Trust, said the decision to pause the expansion of courses was a “huge concern” as numbers of district nurses need to grow “at a much faster rate”.

“This is a major safety issue for safe and effective care in the community if we don’t have the appropriate numbers of nurses trained. We may also lose nurses as well who want to progress and expand their knowledge,” Ms Lawrence said.

John Unsworth, chair of the Queen’s Nursing Institute said NHSE would need to change course and confirm commissioning of the additional courses “in the next couple of weeks”, otherwise the chances of any new district nurses starting their courses in September would be “hugely marginal”.

Even this was late, he said: “The problem we’ve seen all the way along is that trusts are informed they’ve got places far too late in the year. You tell a trust in June that they’ve got places for members of staff to start in September and they are not always able to fill the places.”

James Hallwood, head of policy at the Council of Deans – which represents universities engaged in education and research for nursing, midwifery and the allied health professions – said many of its members would be concerned about this development.

“More must be done to ensure universities are factored into decisions and plans for the future of these vital professions, moving beyond a top-down approach that too often misses the need for join-up between both education and health sectors and departments,” he said.

NHSE did not provide comment when approached by HSJ.