Concerns have been raised about a major drop in the number of district nurses working in the North East NHS.
Information released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre revealed that there was a 22% reduction in the number of district nursing staff working in the region over a four-year period.
A total of 566 district nurses were recorded in the North East in September 2008 but that had fallen to just 439 in September 2012.
The data shows there was a reduction of 127 nurses, which equates to a fall of around one in five.
Last night MPs and health union leaders said they were concerned at the decline in district nurses as a focus of the Government’s reorganisation of the NHS was on providing care in the community.
However, the Department of Health has insisted that the number of clinical staff in the NHS has increased while it was the numbers of admin staff that had fallen. Newcastle East MP Nick Brown said: “These figures come as a complete shock.
“The nursing headcount has been reduced by stealth under the guise of reorganisation.
“Nurses provide frontline healthcare and this means that frontline healthcare has been taken away.
“I am surprised at the extent of the decline in numbers as it is significantly more than I would have expected.
“I do not think people fully appreciate the extent of what the Coalition’s NHS reorganisation means.
“This is far worse than I anticipated and I fear for the future.”
The NHS is facing tough pressures as it deals with chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes and dementia.
Estephanie Dunn, operational manager for the Royal College of Nursing Northern Region, said: “We know that an increasing number of people are living in the North East with long-term, chronic conditions. As such, we actually need more district nurses, not fewer.
“The drop in the number of district nurses in the North East is particularly worrying, because they have a major role to play in the new NHS, empowering people to be cared for in their own homes and in the community, and preventing unnecessary admissions to hospitals.
“There is good evidence to show that district nursing, when resourced properly, actually reduces healthcare costs in the long-term, and allows patients to stay living in their own homes.
“Central Government needs to address the fall in the number of district nurses as an urgent priority. The very future of the NHS relies on moving care closer to home, yet this is only possible if the Government provides sufficient funding to allow proper investment in district nursing.”
Meanwhile, the number of NHS employees nationally has decreased by more than 3,000 in just one year.
Last September, 1,358,295 people were working for the NHS in England, a decrease of 3,238 on the same time in 2011, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
There were 37,314 managers, a 15.5% increase on the number of managers in 2002, but 2,283 fewer nurses than the previous year.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “As more and more care is delivered in the community, district nurses play an integral role in providing good care. Local NHS organisations decide how many nurses are needed to care for patients.
“Nursing leaders have been clear that hospitals should publish staffing details and the evidence to show the numbers are right for the services they deliver – whether in the hospital or out in the community.
“Overall, the number of clinical staff in the NHS has increased and the number of admin staff has fallen by 18,000.”