The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) has published its sixth annual audit of District Nurse education in the United Kingdom. The latest report covers the academic year 2017-18.

The District Nurse Education Report collates information from universities in all four countries of the UK that run the NMC-approved Specialist Practitioner course. 39 universities responded to the survey, out of 43 approved to run the course. Of those 39 universities, 37 ran the course during the academic year.

Increase in student numbers

The report shows that the number of students enrolled in that year increased by almost 20% over the previous year. The number of nurses who qualified with the DN Specialist Practice Qualification in the year increased by 8%. The average student cohort was 21.

However, a significant number of universities expressed concerns about future funding of the programme. Additionally, a number of universities were concerned about how the Apprenticeship model in England would impact on their ability to fund and operate courses. Despite this, 87% of respondents were confident that the programme would continue to run, at the time the survey was undertaken.

Dr Crystal Oldman CBE, the QNI’s Chief Executive commented, ‘I am delighted that the QNI is able to provide evidence of the long term trends in District Nurse Specialist Practice Education and to highlight the variation between countries of the UK.  At a time when there is more complex care to be delivered in people’s homes and communities in the coming years, it is vital that there is a system response to the issues identified and the solutions proposed. As all of the countries of the UK face unprecedented demands for the skills of the District Nurse, it is vital that the workforce is carefully planned to meet those needs.

Course content and delivery

The survey asked how many service provider organisations each university worked with. The average number of providers was four and the largest number 11, suggesting a broad engagement with service organisations and flexibility for students. Universities indicated that over 90% of provider organisations specifically request the District Nurse Specialist Practitioner Qualification (DNSPQ) when placing students.

The audit revealed a mixed picture regarding the supernumerary status of students on the programme. While the large majority of universities require students to be supernumerary, this is not always achieved in practice placements.

There also appears to be a trend towards shorter courses. In 2014-15, there were no courses of under 40 weeks duration but in 2017-18 there were four. In addition, the number of courses over 52 weeks duration has fallen from 24 to 18 over the same period.

Dr Oldman commented, ‘The QNI is concerned that this trend could have adverse effects on student learning, given the growing complexity and challenges of the modern District Nursing team leader role, which the DN SPQ is designed to prepare students for.

However, the data shows a steady increase in the number of universities offering the V300 Independent Prescriber component in the course over the past four years. 15 universities offer the V300 component compared to 12 in the previous year.

National variation

The overall figures hide significant variation in trends in student numbers in the four countries of the UK. The report shows that Wales and Northern Ireland have significantly increased the number of students enrolling on the programme in recent years, with Wales showing a remarkable 124% increase in the number enrolling on programmes, compared to the 2014-15 academic year. Northern Ireland showed an increase of 71%, Scotland 9%, while England achieved barely 5% increase in the number of new students over the same period.

Dr OIdman commented, ‘The increases in Wales and Northern Ireland reflect the robust national policy frameworks in those two countries. In England, substantial, secured investment in District Nurse education is required, that is sufficiently flexible to enable both full and part time options. Approval for an Apprenticeship route for District Nursing is a positive move; however, funding needs to be accessible for both the Apprenticeship route and the fulltime programme.’

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

The DN Education Report was launched on 1 November 2019 at the QNI’s Community Nursing Executive Network Meeting in London.

To download the report go to: https://www.qni.org.uk/resources/district-nurse-education-report-2017-18/

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