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NHS Could Save Millions By Investing In Specialist Nurses – Royal College Of Nursing, UK

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) today joined forces with almost 40 of the UK’s leading health organizations to warn that cutting specialist nurse services for people with long term conditions would be a “false economy”, as they began a campaign for guaranteed access to specialist nursing care for all patients with long term conditions.

Specialist nurse posts, many of which were lost during the deficits crisis of 2006, save millions of pounds from health budgets through reduced complications, fewer hospital re-admissions and the expert long term management of conditions. They also provide many patients and families with a lifeline which no other service can offer.

The RCN has conducted a survey of 60 of the leading health organizations, and almost 300 of the specialist nurses they represent in order to assess the value and availability of specialist nursing to patients with a wide range of long term conditions. Only 36% of respondents felt that everyone who needed specialist nursing currently received it.

Of those who identified problems accessing specialist care (48.8%), the overwhelming majority (69.1%) reported that specialist nurse services are already overloaded and do not have capacity for new referrals.

More than a third of respondents have seen cuts in services over the last 12 months, and 57% are concerned that posts will be threatened in the near future. 95% of the respondents who have seen cuts in services say it is the NHS who have cut or reduced funding for specialist nurses. This raises significant concerns that posts and services could be lost altogether as funding streams dry up.

Examples of savings which can be delivered by specialist nurses include –

– £56 million a year on care for people with Parkinson’s
– £180 million could be saved by treating Multiple Sclerosis flare ups at home rather than in hospital
– £84 million could be saved by using nurse specialists for epilepsy rather than GPs to manage the condition

Ahead of the general election, the RCN is calling for every patient with a long term condition to have guaranteed access to specialist nursing care. In addition, the RCN is calling for specialist posts to be supported by guaranteed funding, underwritten by the NHS, to ensure that short term cutbacks do not jeopardize these valuable skills in the long term. Specialist nurses also need to be given the time they need to treat patients, provide expertise and lead teams in delivering the best care.

Specialist nurses are dedicated clinical experts who are able to spend time with patients with a particular condition, and help them with everything from drug treatments to exercise plans, and help to ensure that patients have the highest possible quality of life. The RCN, along with many of the UK’s leading health organizations, value the role of the specialist nurse as crucial to saving money and preventing complications, and also urges employers not to lose their unparalleled skills and experience.

Dr. Peter Carter, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary, said:

“Nurses realize that whoever wins the next election will be looking to make savings and to deliver more for less. While the temptation may be to cut or downgrade specialist nursing roles, this would be a false economy which would only add to the growing cost of treating long term conditions. In fact, specialist nurses save money through the better management of conditions, keeping patients out of hospital, and advising on the best drug and other treatments.

“Specialist nurses are a unique lifeline for patients and families, who are unequivocal in saying that the specialist nurse is the key factor in preserving their quality of life. It would be disastrous if these posts were put at risk, not just for these patients but for the health service as a whole. Helping with everything from accessing the most appropriate drugs to giving advice on maintaining good health and well-being, specialist nurses are always there for the patients they care for. For example, if community based care for people with Parkinson’s Disease alone could save the government £56 million a year, not to mention reducing the distress to patients and families, then it cannot be right to cut or freeze these posts as a short term fix.

“Whoever wins the next election will need to demonstrate a commitment to save not just these posts, but the skills and experience of the people who fill them. The RCN is calling on government, policy makers and employers to commit to preserving and expanding these roles so that all patients have access and all specialist nurses have the time to use their skills.”

The RCN is concerned that during the deficits crisis in 2006, many specialist roles were lost, frozen or downgraded, breaking a vital link for patients and in many cases losing skills from the health service permanently. An RCN survey has revealed that –

– More than a third of specialist nurses reported their organizations had a vacancy freeze in place
– 47% reported that their roles were at risk of being downgraded
– 68% reported having to see more patients

The Parkinson’s Disease Society is one of the organizations backing the RCN’s recommendations. Lesley Carter, Head of Influence and Service Development, said: “Parkinson’s Disease Nurse Specialists are critical to the care of people living with the condition, but the current postcode lottery of care means that many people with Parkinson’s are missing out. At the Parkinson’s Disease Society we are passionate about making sure that everyone with Parkinson’s has access to a Nurse Specialist wherever they live in the UK. Specialist nurses help people manage their medication, offer advice and information about living with Parkinson’s and give emotional support to both the patient and their carer. They also offer the local health organization opportunities to innovate how care is delivered.”

Linda McGuinness, who has Multiple Sclerosis and receives care from MS Nurse Specialist Carrie Dobson said:

“Unless you’re going through it you don’t know how it will affect you. When you’re sitting there and suddenly your feet don’t work or your legs don’t work it’s very frightening and you want help there and then. You can’t always get the doctor, although he’s very good, you need to have somebody there you can ring up and say ‘help, this is happening, what should I do about it?’ It’s like a safety rope, like a life belt to know there is somebody there.”

The RCN has also produced a film setting out the value of specialist nurses and featuring interviews with nurses and patients. You can view the film from Wednesday February 24th via the Nursing Counts website – http://www.rcn.org.uk/generalelection


Organizations who have signed up to the RCN’s policy recommendations include the Parkinson’s Disease Society, Macmillan Cancer Support, Epilepsy Action, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Terrence Higgins Trust, MS Society and The Roy Castle Lung Cancer foundation.

The Parkinson’s Society estimates that by developing and funding community-based treatment services the savings in health costs could be around £56 million, or 30% of the money spent on supporting people in care homes.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN)

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