Specialist Nurses Must Not Be ‘Soft Targets’ In Deficits Crisis

Specialist nurses are being targeted to reduce mounting NHS debts, warns the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and charity Bowel Cancer UK – a move the RCN calls “deeply worrying”. The RCN and Bowel Cancer UK surveyed nurses working in gastroenterology and stoma care across the UK. A total of 460 nurses responded to the survey, with 47% having experience of either their own post – or that of another specialist nurse in their area – being made redundant, downgraded or frozen while vacant.

Other key findings include:
· 41% are worried about their future, with 124 respondents saying their employment was not very secure, and another 59 reporting their work was not secure at all
· 12% are aware of other specialist nurses in their area being made redundant
· More than a third (34%) are aware of specialist nurses being asked to cover non-specialist shifts on wards or departments

An overwhelming majority of the nurses surveyed were worried that services and patients would suffer because of cuts. Over two thirds (72%) of nurses who had either been made redundant or asked to work on wards said patient care would suffer. A majority (60%) said there would be less face-to-face contact with patients and 47% said patients would have longer waiting times.

Professor Christine Norton, Chair of the RCN Gastroenterology and Stoma Care Forum, says: “The loss of specialist nursing posts is deeply worrying. There are already too few nurses with this level of skill working in the healthcare system. The loss of just one of these experts will have a disproportionate impact on patients.

“It is also a terrible waste of their skills and training to have specialist nurses working shifts on other wards or departments. It is unacceptable that specialist nurses – or indeed any nurses – should be seen as ‘soft targets’. Ultimately it is the patient who ends up paying the price.”

Michael Wickham, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, says, “Specialist nurses are vital in providing care to patients suffering from life-threatening illnesses. We know from our own experience that patients value the work of these nurses extremely highly. Any cuts in the number of practising nurses can have nothing but a detrimental impact upon patients and the quality of support they receive.

“It is essential that the funding and resources are in place to allow these nurses to continue with their work and to maintain their high standard of patient support. We would ask the NHS to seriously review its practice with regards to the issues surrounding specialist nurses.”

Bowel Cancer UK and the RCN surveyed 460 gastroenterology and stoma care nurses across the UK in July 2006.

More than half of the nurses surveyed (53% or 238 respondents) said their access to training and development had been reduced in the past year. Even more worryingly, one-quarter of the respondents (118) do not see themselves working in the NHS in two years’ time. The RCN and Bowel Cancer UK are calling on the Government to safeguard these specialist posts to ensure patients receive the best care possible.

Tim Barnes, a bowel cancer patient from Dorset, and chair of the Semi-Colons patient support group adds: “Specialist nurses are absolutely vital to patients and their carers. They are always there for you; a shoulder to cry on; offering help, support and advice when you most need it. I can’t believe that the Government is considering cutting their services.”