The Welsh Government has announced an investment of up to £30m to expand care services provided at home or in the community.
The initiative – led by Eluned Morgan, minister for health and social services, and Julie Morgan, deputy minister for social services – aims to alleviate the strain on hospital beds by preventing admissions through early intervention.
The funding will be used to recruit more community workers, strengthen specialist palliative care and enable local services to collaborate. In addition, the initiative will see a move towards 24/7 community nursing by increasing the availability of community nurses across Wales for an extra 10 hours a day on Saturday and Sundays, the government has said.
But nursing and healthcare leaders have warned that addressing workforce shortages was key for these plans to be achieved.
RCN Wales welcomed the ‘overall ambition’ to invest in the community but director Helen Whyley argued that without ‘significant investment’ in the nursing workforce, the ambition would not be realised.
‘The community nursing workforce is facing extensive staffing challenges and is chronically understaffed, undervalued and overstretched,’ Ms Whyley said.
‘This investment must include commissioning more specialist practitioner qualifications for district nurses.
‘It is essential that the variety of qualifications available meet the complex needs of people in the community and reflect the level of specialist care that nurses are able to provide.’
Ms Whyley also said that funded career pathways for specialist palliative care nurses would be ‘greatly welcomed’.
‘We need to see a genuine investment in community nursing in priority areas and this must start with fair pay for nursing and vital professional development opportunities,’ she added.
Meanwhile, Nesta Lloyd-Jones, assistant director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said the proposals to move towards 24/7 community nursing across Wales and strengthening community specialist palliative care were ‘encouraged’, but added that there was little detail available on how this will be achieved and where the extra resource will come from.
‘As we know, we can’t magic up a workforce overnight,’ Ms Lloyd-Jones said.
‘While this announcement is a positive step, more needs to be done to increase capacity in community care not only to catch up with current demand, but to ensure it keeps up with the projected growing needs of our population in the years to come,’ she added.
QNI chief executive Dr Crystal Oldman said she was ‘delighted’ to hear about the Welsh Government’s investment into the community.
‘A 24/7 district nursing service is a model that is part of the commissioned service in many parts of England and is also one of the aims of the district nursing framework in Northern Ireland, where the 24/7 service will be in place across the whole country by 2026,’ Dr Oldman commented.
‘Wales has been focused on intentionally building capacity and capability in the community for many years, with additional investment into district nursing specialist practitioner programmes to ensure that more people can be cared for at home rather than in hospital, more people can experience a shorter hospital admission, and more people can have their end-of-life care at home, which is where the majority of people would choose to be,’ she added.
Health minister Eluned Morgan said: ‘Research has shown that people recover better in the comfort of their own home rather than in hospital, where they are less likely to become deconditioned and less likely to pick up infections. We must focus on transforming the way we provide care to enable this.
‘We need to move the focus from treating short-term episodes of ill health to meeting the needs of more frail and elderly people with multiple health conditions.’
In addition, deputy minister for social services Julie Morgan said there was a need to ‘go further, faster to make sure more people can get the care and support they need at home or in their community and spend less time in hospitals’.