Survey reveals shortage of specialist diabetes nurses

by Barbara Hewitt on November 29, 2016

More specialist diabetes nurses are urgently needed in the UK with research revealing they are currently overworked which could have an impact on care.

A new survey has found that 78% of specialist nurses feel that their workload is having an impact on patient care and 39% think their current caseload is unmanageable.

nurse-hospitalThe survey report from charity Diabetes UK says that the nurses are part of a highly committed workforce but they are often struggling to cope as demand for diabetes services is increasing and likely to continue to do so.

However, there is not a corresponding increase in the number of specialist diabetes nurses and the charity is warning that to avert a crisis of care more needs to be done to recruit and develop the training of nurses.

Almost nine out of 10 diabetes nurses reported working above their contracted hours. Several respondents said that their contracted hours have remained the same but they are working unpaid overtime to ensure good patient care.

The survey suggests that workforce numbers have not kept pace with increasing diabetes prevalence. In little over a decade, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK has increased by 72%.

Yet 29% of survey respondents said there had been cuts to posts in their team over the past two years, suggesting that current financial pressures in the NHS are having a direct impact on diabetes care and safety and the charity warns this is storing up further problems and costs for the future.

It also fears that shortages are likely to worsen in coming years unless more nurses enter the profession. Diabetes UK says it is worryingly that 57% of specialist diabetes nurses are eligible to retire within 10 years or fewer. This is a significantly higher figure than the 33% of nurses overall that will be retiring in the next 10 years.

It points out that in the same time period the number of people in the UK with diabetes is expected to increase by at least 700,000, taking the total number of people living with diabetes to 5.2 million by 2025.

‘Evidence shows that diabetes nurse specialists reduce length of stay in hospital, improve patient satisfaction and are cost effective. But as they are relatively more expensive than non-specialist staff they are vulnerable to cost cutting measures in times of austerity,’ said Bridget Turner, director of policy and care improvement at Diabetes UK.

‘Unless urgent action is taken to recruit and develop more specialist nurses, including to senior grades, workforce shortages are likely to worsen in coming years and this will have a potentially devastating impact on patient care and safety. We know that there are fantastic examples of good practice and innovation in some local areas but the national picture shows a profession at breaking point,’ she explained.

‘Diabetes specialist nurses should not be viewed as a luxury, they should be recognised as vital to delivering safe, quality care for people with diabetes, including by supporting people to successfully self-manage their condition,’ she added.

The charity is calling for a national workforce strategy, as well as local action, to ensure there are sufficient appropriately skilled nurses to meet current and future demand and an end to inconsistencies in the role across the country and is recommending a national system to accredit the specialist skills, benchmark standards across the UK and create clear career pathways from entry-level specialist through to senior roles.

Helen Atkins, a lead diabetes specialist nurse at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said that every day she sees the positive impact her team has, often against the odds, supporting people with diabetes to manage their condition, avoid complications and keep them out of hospital.

‘Yet in many areas our health system is neglecting this highly skilled workforce just when we need them most. No nurse wants to deliver anything but the best care possible but the workforce is being pushed to their limits. If we are to rise to the challenge of increasing diabetes prevalence, we need urgent action at both a local and national level to tackle workforce shortages,’ she added.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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