Nursing shortages result in cuts to care for seriously ill children

Categories: Care.

The national charity has today published the results of its Nursing vacancy survey 2015, which show that an average of 10% of nursing posts within voluntary children’s palliative care organisations are currently vacant.

This is higher than the NHS nurse vacancy rate (which is 7%) and equates to around 150 vacancies across the country.

Two-thirds of the organisations that responded to the survey said that the difficulty in filling these vacancies was leading to a reduced service being offered to patients and families. Examples of cutbacks include fewer available children’s hospice beds and fewer short breaks on offer to families.

The inability to fill vacancies often means services are having to reply on agency nurses, which hinders the formation of meaningful relationships between children and their nurses, as agency nurses may change on a daily basis.

There are currently 883 nurses employed by the 23 hospice and community services which responded to the survey, with Together for Short Lives estimating that approximately 1,500 nurses are employed in the sector nationwide.

This figure is the same as its 2014 estimate, and the survey also reveals that the age-profile of nurses is not changing, with 26% of nurses in the sector aged over 50. Many nurses can retire at the age of 55, and several organisations mentioned retirement as a reason for ongoing vacancies.

Other reasons included a lack of available nurses (particularly children’s community nurses) and the terms and conditions – such as pay and shift patterns – on offer.

Around 60% of the vacancies were defined as ‘hard to fill’, meaning that they were vacant for more than three months. Over half the vacancies are at Band 5 or equivalent (positions with salaries of between £21,000 and £28,000 on offer), but there was a rise in the proportion of Band 7 and Band 8 vacancies (which carry salaries of over £30,000).

Together for Short Lives has called on the government to ensure that there is “a long-term, sustainable vision for children’s palliative care nursing” to ensure that children with life-limiting and life-threatening illnesses have access to high-quality care.

“Children with life-shortening conditions depend on a skilled and specialised children’s palliative care workforce to help them and their families lead lives which are as fulfilling as possible,” the charity’s chief executive, Barbara Gelb, said.

“Our survey demonstrates that there remains a worrying shortage of nurses to able to deliver children’s palliative care and that this is having a direct impact on the services that providers can offer. It shows that organisations are reducing their care offer, which results in families being unable to access the support that they need, especially overnight and at weekends.

“This places families under greater strain and increases the likelihood of unnecessary hospital admissions at these times. Ultimately, this can mean that a child and their family are unable to choose where to receive their end of life care.”

A summary of the survey is available on the Together for Short Lives website.

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