Dying people at risk in nursing shortage crisis as 500 posts remain empty500 more specialist nurses are needed Vacancy rate almost double that of five years ago
Annual death toll predicted to hit 586,000 by 2030
A nursing crisis threatens the care of people who are dying, warns a leading health charity.
The number of specialist palliative care nurses has fallen by almost seven per cent despite new NHS guidelines pledging 24/7 services for terminally ill patients.
At least 500 more specialist nurses are needed as the number of people dying each year is predicted to hit 586,000 by 2030.
The number of specialist palliative care nurses has fallen by almost seven per cent despite new NHS guidelines pledging 24/7 services for terminally ill patients
An ageing nursing workforce combined with staff shortages and a recruitment crisis could pose serious problems for specialist care of people at the end of life, says the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC).
A survey by the charity found the number of specialist palliative care nurses fell by 6.9 per cent in 2008 / 10, from a peak of 6,155 to 5,730.
The study also showed an average vacancy rate among specialist palliative care nurses of 8.7 per cent – almost 500 posts left empty – which is almost double the rate five years ago.
Specialist palliative care consultants reached reached a new high last year of 289, but the vacancy rate of 7.8 per cent means 22 more full-timers are needed.
Almost four out of 10 of specialist palliative care nurses were over the age of 50, along with a similar proportion of social workers.
An ageing nursing workforce combined with staff shortages and a recruitment crisis could pose serious problems for specialist care (stock image)
More than a quarter of specialist palliative care consultants were aged over 50.
Thefindings come as the charity estimates the number of people dying each year will increase by 17 per cent – from 500,000 to 586,000 in England and Wales – by 2030.
The NCPC says vacancies should be filled immediately and there should be a strategy of assessing the long-term need for palliative care nurses as more people are living longer with serious conditions and the numbers dying increases.
Extra staff will be required to meet new NHS guidelines on care for terminally ill patients and those with life-threatening acute conditions issued last month.
“The care of dying people will be seriously threatened without a greater focus on recruitment of palliative care specialists”
The health watchdog Nice, which has drawn up the guidelines, says health and social care professionals must ensure they provide 24/7 services for dying patients in a ‘safe, effective and appropriate way at any time of day or night’.
Simon Chapman, NCPC director of policy and parliamentary affairs, said: ‘With someone in England dying every minute, many of us will one day require specialist palliative care.
‘Although we are fortunate to be able to count on a great many experienced staff and a growing recognition that end-of-life care must be everyone”s business, an ageing palliative care workforce could pose real recruitment and training problems in the future and needs to be urgently addressed.’
Eve Richardson, NCPC chief executive, said ‘The care of dying people will be seriously threatened without a greater focus on recruitment of palliative care specialists.’
Duleep Allirajah, Head of Policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said ‘‘How and where people are able to spend their last days is a basic right that every patient should have, but sadly not enough do.
‘Specialist nursing staff and 24 hour community nursing are absolutely crucial to the delivery of choice in end of life care.
‘It is really extremely worrying therefore that the number of specialist palliative care nurses could be falling – we already know end of life care for the terminally ill is not at the standard it should be.
‘One of the greatest barriers to patients dying at home, if that is their choice, is the lack of 24/7 community nursing. A Macmillan Cancer Support report found that only 56 per cent of Primary Care Trusts offered the service to end of life patients.
‘It is important that organisations work towards implementing this as we only get one chance to get it right for dying people.’