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Loss of future funding is concern for third of district nurse programmes, survey finds

Over a third of people running specialist practitioner qualification (SPQ) programmes for district nursing across the UK are concerned about losing funding for the qualification, a new report published today (1 November) has revealed.  

Of the 39 course directors surveyed by community nursing charity the Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI), loss of future funding resulting in programme closure was listed as a major concern by 38% while 24% cited funding worries related to the new apprenticeship model for England.  

The report - published amid uncertainty that the district nursing SPQ will not be funded beyond 2019/20 in England – argued that the loss of degree study involved in the apprenticeship route may put off mature level and experienced community nurses.  

It went on to warn that the part-time two-year apprenticeship route is in ‘direct competition’ with other health and social care areas for funding and questioned whether there could be future progamme closures as a result.  

Meanwhile, implications of the apprenticeship only being approved at level 7 (Masters level) - while many existing programmes deliver at both level 6 (first degree level) and level 7 – have ‘not yet been fully realised’, the document added.  

It explained: ‘Many community nurses who are thinking of progression into a district nurses role have a diploma level qualification and may not yet have been able to "top-up" to a degree, so a move to Masters level study might deter some applicants.’ 

In the document, the QNI repeated its call for the continuation of the full-time route to continue alongside the apprenticeship model. If further funding from Health Education England (HEE) is not secured, the apprenticeship will be the only route into district nursing. 

Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the QNI, said: 'At a time when there is more complex care to be delivered in people’s homes and communities in the coming years, it is vital that there is a system response to the issues identified and the solutions proposed. As all of the countries of the UK face unprecedented demands for the skills of the district nurse, it is vital that the workforce is carefully planned to meet those needs.'

Of the 43 universities that run the SPQ district nursing programme, 39 responded to the survey invitation from QNI. 

Earlier this month, Health Education England (HEE) chief nurse Mark Radford told Nursing in Practice that HEE is ‘working closely’ with NHS England and NHS Improvement on securing further funding for the district nursing SPQ.  

District nurses working in the NHS has dropped by almost 43% in England alone in the last ten years, meaning 4,000 district nurses are providing care for a population of around 55.8 million in England, figures from NHS Digital show.