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Lack of specialist nurses pushing diabetes care to "breaking point”

The NHS is not recruiting enough diabetes specialist nurses (DSNs) to keep pace with the growing number of people diagnosed with diabetes, according to a new analysis. 

The analysis sets out the strong evidence that DSNs are vital for good patient care and can also save the NHS money because they help reduce the length of time people with diabetes stay in hospital. 

DSNs also support people with diabetes to help reduce their risk of health complications which account for 80% of the £10 billion a year the NHS spends on diabetes.

The analysis, from the Royal College of Nursing, Diabetes UK and TREND UK suggests that staffing levels have been allowed to “stagnate” because of short-term budget pressures. 

According to a survey of DSNs conducted as part of the analysis, 20% are spending less time with patients because they have more administrative work to do; about half struggle to access training to improve their skills; and nearly 40% say their posts had either been downgraded or were being reviewed.

The three organisations have warned this could have a serious impact the quality of diabetes healthcare and they are calling on the NHS to make DSNs an integral part of their future plans to ensure the number of them increases along with the rise in people with diabetes. 

Barbara Young, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: “Diabetes specialist nurses are the lynchpins of quality diabetes care. As well as being a vital link between hospitals and community services, they train other healthcare professionals about diabetes care, give people the education they need to manage their own condition and help make sure people with diabetes get the hospital care they need.

“The NHS urgently needs to recognise the importance of DSNs and to end the recruitment freezes that are happening in far too many places. We then need to see NHS organisations take action to ensure we increase the number of them in the short term and then start planning for a future so we can meet the minimum recommended staffing levels and so help make sure people with diabetes get the quality of healthcare they need.”

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the RCN, said: “Diabetes continues to have an increasingly devastating effect on both the nation's health and the budget of the NHS, and shows no sign of slowing down its grip on public health. That is why it is vital that we address this dramatic shortage in specialist nurses who help support the 3.2 million people in the UK living with the condition.

“The lack of investment in specialist diabetic nurses shows a worrying short-term approach to diabetes care provision by many trusts, illustrated by the news that a third of hospitals have no specific diabetes inpatient specialist nurse. This is actually a key area of health care where investing now can actually save the NHS money in the long-term, while at the same time offering people with diabetes the care that they deserve. Short-term cost cutting in this area can have devastating effects.


“Nursing staff have a pivotal role when caring for people living with diabetes and provide essential support to enable them to manage their condition and avoid complications. We need to act now to ensure this care improves across the UK.”