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Numbers of nurses for children's hospices falling

The number of specialist palliative nurses in UK children's hospices is decreasing and diminishing the level of care given to terminally ill children at the end of their lives.

UK charity, Together for Short Lives, reported that children’s hospices have a growing shortage of nurses following the publication of their 2016 survey.

Of the 39 children's hospices in the UK, 24 took part in the survey. The results show that there was an increased shortage of nurses in children's hospices last year.

The nurse vacancy rate in children's hospices was found to be higher than in the rest of the NHS and it has grown since 2015.

At the same time, the number of children and young people who use lifeline children’s hospice services is increasing.

The workforce shortfall means that children’s hospices are increasingly being forced to cut back the vital palliative care for children, the report revealed.

'The gaps mean that children and young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions - Britain’s sickest children - are missing out on lifeline palliative care, including short breaks which can help prevent their families from separating,' the charity said.

In 2016, the average nursing vacancy rate in children's hospices was over 11%, which was an increase on the 10% rate in 2015. This represents over 130 whole-time equivalent (WTE) posts unfilled.

The overall NHS nurse vacancy rate is 9% in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (as of March 2016), and 4.1% in Scotland (as of October 2016), while the children’s nurse vacancy rate in Scotland was 6.7%.

Reasons for shortfall

More than six out of ten (61%) of the respondents cited lack of available appropriately skilled nurses being available to fill posts as the reason for vacancies.

'The pool of nurses is too small, increasing competition for nurses between local providers, nurses with young children, both male and female, demanding long days, fixed days or completely family-friendly working hours as child care costs are so high we just can’t accommodate demands and run the business,' one hospice owner said.

Equally, 61% of respondents said that terms and conditions including pay, maternity and sickness leave, shift patterns, and unsocial hours’ enhancements were the reason for their vacancies. This represented an increase on the 51% who cited these factors in 2015.

'Small hospices struggle to match the NHS terms and conditions – the increment scale often leaves us short, in particular when looking at someone we require with certain skills and competencies. Some nurses do not have these but have been placed on higher salaries due to incremental increases – which can cause difficult conversations,' another employer said.

Health workforce planners for the UK do not currently assess the demand for children’s nurses among children’s hospice organisations or include them in their wider nursing vacancy rates.

The report called for an 'urgent UK-wide summit' to discuss the workforce crisis in children’s palliative care nursing with the Government, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the Council of Deans of Health and the agencies who are responsible for commissioning nurse education places across the UK.