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Specialist nurses "could save NHS millions"

Cutting specialist nursing posts for long-term care is a false economy

OnMedica staff

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Specialist nurses save the NHS millions of pounds by contributing to reduced complications, fewer hospital re-admissions and the expert long-term management of conditions, says the Royal College of Nursing. They also provide many patients and families with a lifeline that no other service offers, says the College.

The RCN and nearly 40 of the UK’s leading health organisations have warned that cutting specialist nurse services for people with long-term conditions would be a “false economy”, and are campaigning for guaranteed access to specialist nursing care for all patients with long-term conditions. Many specialist nurse posts were lost during the deficits crisis of 2006.

The RCN has conducted a survey of 60 of the leading health organisations, and almost 300 specialist nurses, in order to assess the value and availability of specialist nursing to patients with a wide range of long-term conditions.

Only just over a third (36%) of respondents felt that everyone who needed specialist nursing currently received it. And of the nearly half (49%) who identified problems accessing specialist care, more than two-thirds (69%) reported that specialist nurse services are already overloaded and do not have capacity for new referrals.

Cuts in specialist nurse services have been widespread over the past 12 months, which the RCN says raises significant concerns that posts and services could be lost altogether as funding streams dry up. The College says that reducing spending on specialist nurses is a false economy, because these nurse posts save money from health budgets. It gives examples of annual savings that can be delivered by specialist nurses, including:

  • £56 million on care for people with Parkinson’s disease
  • £180 million by treating multiple sclerosis flare-ups at home rather than in hospital
  • £84 million by using nurse specialists for epilepsy – rather than GPs – to manage the condition

The RCN is calling for every patient with a long-term condition to have guaranteed access to specialist nursing care. And it wants specialist posts to be supported by guaranteed funding, underwritten by the NHS, to ensure that short-term cutbacks do not jeopardise these valuable skills in the long term.

Dr Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “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.”

He added: “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.

“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 Parkinson’s Disease Society is one of the organisations 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 … [Specialist nurses] also offer the local health organisation opportunities to innovate how care is delivered.”

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