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Palliative care nurse shortage sees declining respite options for sick children

Palliative care nurse shortage sees declining respite options for sick children

A shortage of palliative care nurses for children and young people in the UK is impacting the care provided to patients and their families, according to a UK charity.

The charity, Together for Short Lives, has said there are more than 50,000 children and young people in the UK who are expected to have short lives and the number is rising.

These children have complex and unpredictable health conditions and rely on qualified children’s nurses with the right skills to provide palliative care and symptom management.

However, two thirds of voluntary services surveyed by the charity reported that a shortage in nurses is resulting in a reduced offer of care to families: closing beds, reducing respite or affecting the continuity of care.

The nurse vacancy rate in children’s palliative care voluntary sector is currently 10%, which is higher than the NHS nurse vacancy rate at 7%.

The charity’s annual vacancy surveys also show the negative impact on services is increasing year on year.

The number of respondents who reported reducing their services as a result of vacancies increased to 65% in 2015 compared with 43% in 2014.

This week Together for Short Lives launches ‘You Can Be That Nurse’, a campaign to encourage nurses to work in the sector and help bridge the care gap.

As part of the campaign, the charity is asking the Government and healthcare workforce planners to take action and reduce the nursing vacancy rate among voluntary sector children’s palliative care.

The charity would also like the Council of Deans to encourage university nurse training faculties to adopt our recognised best practice curricula for children’s palliative care nurse training.

Fiona Smith, professional lead for children’s and young people’s nursing at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It is devastating that the effects of nurse shortages are being felt by the children and families who need them most – those who are not expected to live long and who may be approaching the end of their lives.

“There is only one chance to get this right for any one child, so the expertise of children’s nurses with specialist knowledge and skills in palliative care can make a huge difference for those with complex needs.

“The lack of them could have been avoided through joined-up and consistent workforce planning, and training and developing staff to meet ever increasing needs.

“In the future, we need to see much more consistent investment in educating and commissioning the right workforce with the right skills and knowledge, to ensure that the expertise is not stretched so thinly that many children and young people miss out.

“It adds to the distress of families in tragic situations where expert care has to be rationed, and this must become a thing of the past.”

Barbara Gelb, chief executive of Together for Short Lives said: “The number of children who may need palliative care is rising yet children’s palliative care is facing a shortage of qualified nurses to provide care and support for this most vulnerable group of people.

“And it’s worrying that over a quarter of nurses at voluntary sector children’s palliative care providers are over 50 years, with many able to retire at 55; it’s vital we increase the number of qualified children’s palliative care nurses to bridge this care gap and future-proof care provision for seriously ill children and families.”

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A shortage of palliative care nurses for children is impacting the care available for patients and their families