Shortage of nurses for children’s hospices in the UK

Categories: Care.

A recent survey by Together for Short Lives, reveals that children’s hospices in the United Kingdom are experiencing a disturbing and increasing shortage of nurses. This means that many children and young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions are not receiving palliative care, including short breaks which provide respite and can help prevent their families from separating.

The snapshot survey of 24 UK children’s hospices shows that the average nurse vacancy rate was 11% in mid-December 2016 (an increase of 1% on the rate in 2015) and higher than the overall NHS nurse vacancy rate of 9% in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. This represents over 130 full time posts unfilled.

Many hospices report that it is getting harder to fill nursing posts, with nearly two thirds (65%) of the unfilled posts vacant for more than three months. A quarter (25%) remain vacant for over a year. The survey suggests there is an increasing shortage of experienced nurses to care for children with rare and complex health conditions: the number of vacancies was highest at salaries equivalent to NHS Band 6 (in 2015 it was Band 5).

Impact on care
The number of children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions who rely on children’s hospice services is increasing. Yet the nursing shortfall means that children’s hospices are increasingly being forced to cut back the vital palliative care they can offer to families. The majority of services say that vacancies are having an impact on care – including a reduced offer to families or reduced short breaks (58% of respondents compared to 43% in 2015). Nearly one fifth (17%) stated that they were being forced to close beds. For the first time, three (13%) services reported that vacancies affected their ability to provide 24/7 care. Short breaks are a lifeline to families and can reduce parental stress and the risk of family breakdown. 

Together for Short Lives is very concerned that a reduction in short breaks and hospice care could have a big impact on family wellbeing.  Barbara Gelb OBE, CEO of the charity said that she was calling on the UK’s governments, health workforce planners and universities to urgently work with them to find a way of boosting the supply of nurses to children’s hospices services in order to avoid reaching a point of crisis.

In September 2016 the charity launched a campaign You Can Be That Nurse, which encouraged nurses to consider a career in children’s palliative care. The campaign included a YouTube video of the same name. 

For the first time, Together for Short Lives also surveyed university child nursing undergraduate degree courses to find how they are teaching children’s palliative care. A small sample of 15 (25%) course leads responded. Although there were many positive signs that courses included elements of best practice in their curricula, over a quarter of those who responded (27%) stated that they had not devised children’s palliative care competencies for their students. Together for Short Lives found that a third of universities which responded (33%) are planning to increase their children’s undergraduate nursing course intake in the future.

Click here to read the full article on the Together for Short Lives website.