• Gap in national funding may leave NHS with no new district nurses qualifying in 2021
  • Nursing body warns this would have “catastrophic” consequences for workforce planning
  • Government suggests issue could be addressed in next year’s spending review

The supply of district nurses coming into the NHS could drop to zero in 2021 unless the government provides additional funding, it has emerged.

Health Education England’s national funding for the one-year postgraduate course is due to finish in 2019-20, with the government planning for the apprenticeship levy to provide funding for a part-time two-year course from 2020-21.

But nurses training through this apprenticeship route would only qualify in 2022, meaning there could be no newly-qualified individuals in 2021.

Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queens Nursing Institute, told HSJ this would be “catastrophic”, while NHS Providers said it would have a “severe” impact on the nursing workforce.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it is in discussions with HEE about the future of the one-year course, and that continued funding would be subject to the government’s spending review.

HSJ understands around 550 district nurses qualify each year across the UK, although there was a 10 per cent year on year drop in the numbers qualifying in England in 2017-18.

According to figures published by NHS Digital, there has been a 40 per cent drop in the number of district nurses working in the NHS since 2010.

Ms Oldman said: “The impact of having no new district nurses qualifying even for one year would, frankly, be catastrophic for workforce planning, service delivery and patient care.

“Recruitment and retention of staff is possibly the biggest challenge being faced by today’s NHS and a secure pipeline of district nurses is required to ensure the delivery of the long-term plan in England, where more people with increasingly complex acute and long term health conditions can be cared for at home, addressing delayed transfers of care and unplanned admissions.”

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy for NHS Providers said: “[District nurses] have a critical role to play in shifting the balance of care away from hospital and close to people’s homes… A gap in the recruitment and training of specialist district nurses would have a severe impact on a nursing workforce already under severe strain.

A DHSC spokeswoman said: “We are working with HEE on funding for the specialist practice qualification for district nursing, and will consider this as part of the NHS long-term plan and the upcoming spending review.

“In addition to this, we are expanding routes into district nursing by developing an apprenticeship.”

In September, junior health minister Caroline Dinenage announced the government would offer “golden hellos” worth up to £10,000 to post-graduate nurses who want to train as a district nurse.