Recruitment to children’s nursing must not be allowed to dip

The specialty must not be forgotten in the bid to recruit more community nurses

A health professional on a home visit talks to a mother holding a toddler who has a nasogastric tube in place
Picture: Neil O’Connor

One of the remarkable things about the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, published in June, was that, despite its glossy front cover featuring a mother and child, there was barely a mention of children’s nursing in its 151 pages.

In fact, there was a grand total of two sentences: Our assessment is that there is currently a sufficient number of training places to meet demand for children’s nursing,’ and ‘We will work with partners to develop opportunities to extend dual registration courses in children and young people and learning disability nursing.’

Recruitment to children’s nursing must be sustained if we are to meet patients’ needs

Recruitment to preregistration children’s nursing programmes remains relatively buoyant compared to the other preregistration fields, but we must avoid complacency and ensure that any increase in recruitment to the other fields does not have a negative impact on preregistration children’s nursing numbers.

Understandably, a major focus of the workforce plan is the community nursing workforce. As more care for patients with ever higher levels of acuity is being provided in out-of-hospital settings, it is obvious that we need to grow the workforce in number and in enhanced or advanced practice skills. However, the plan fails to make specific reference to the nursing workforce that will be required to meet the future care needs of children in the community – although it does recommend an increase in the number of district nurse (DN) training places of 150% between 2023 and 2032.

The community children’s nursing (CCN) workforce has expanded significantly from a low baseline of 54 CCNs in England in 1988 to upwards of 4,000 nurses now working in CCN services across the UK. While the planned increase in DN training places is welcome, it will be imperative to ensure that training places for CCNs are not squeezed out by the pressure to boost DN numbers.

New standards have been set for potential recruits

In July 2022, the Nursing and Midwifery Council published new standards of proficiency for community nursing practice and in July the Queen’s Nursing Institute launched its own field-specific standards including CCN practice. These documents will provide a solid foundation on which to develop the CCN workforce of the future – but only if we train enough CCNs to provide the expert care our children and their families deserve.

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