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District nurse numbers fall for first time in five years

The number of nurses qualifying as district nurses in the UK has fallen by more than 10% over the last year, new data shows.

It is the first time that the number of nurses qualifying as district nurse specialist practitioners has fallen in five years.

The Queen’s Nursing Institute’s annual report on district nurse education found that 464 nurses qualified as district nurse specialist practitioners in the UK in 2017, compared to 517 in 2016.

The number of new entrants to a district nurse programme also fell, with 551 starting the qualification in 2016/17, down from 565 in 2015/16.

There were two fewer institutions offering the specialist practitioner course in 2017 compared to the previous year, with one fewer in each of England and Wales.

Data for the report was collected via surveys sent to the programme directors of all NMC-approved district nurse courses in the UK, with 38 of the 42 directors responding.

The survey also asked about reasons for applicants not being accepted onto courses, with the QNI identifying several key issues based on responses from the 29 universities that answered the question:

  • An employer-led recruitment process meant universities did not know why candidates had been unsuitable
  • Staff shortages and inability to back fill funding left staff unable to be released
  • More applicants than available sponsored places
  • Insufficient practice teachers or lack of suitable learning environment
  • Candidates had insufficient understanding of the role

Universities were asked about their views on future funding, with 32 out of the 35 who responded claiming they were concerned about the uncertainty and future viability of the programme, with some claiming that funding had an impact on the course structure.

The report states: ‘Others were concerned that the structure of the programme was being affected, as more district nursing service provider organisations were moving from full time sponsorship to part time courses due to staffing difficulties, despite the full time option being preferred by students and the universities.’