New report reveals extent of workforce crisis in palliative care

A workforce crisis in palliative care could lead to children with life-threatening conditions missing out on crucial care and support, a leading charity has warned.

The warning comes after a new report by children’s charity Together for Short Lives revealed a “dangerous mix” of growing staff shortages and rising caseloads nationwide.

The report identified a higher nursing vacancy rate for Children’s Hospices compared to the national nursing average vacancy across NHS organisations of 11%.

Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice, North Anston is also experiencing similar difficulties in recruiting to all of their Nursing vacancies.

Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice has joined the charity in calling on Government Ministers to commit to specific action to improve the care required by seriously ill children.

The shocking figures uncovered by the report reveal that:

  • The nursing vacancy rate in children’s Hospices is growing, with an average vacancy rate of 12.2% across the UK.
  • There are just 15 children’s palliative care consultants in the UK – the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) suggests there should be 40-60.
  • There are too few skilled children’s nurses to fill vacant posts in children’s hospices. Over half (58%) of children’s hospices cite an overall lack of children’s nurses as a significant factor in the vacancy rates they are experiencing.

Susan Wood, Director of Care at Bluebell Wood, said: “It is absolutely vital that we’re able to continue to provide first-class care to children and young adults with life-threatening and life-shortening conditions.

“Registered nurses are integral in providing this care, which is why the Together for Short Lives report makes for such troubling reading.

“I’m proud that we have an incredibly dedicated and hardworking care team here at Bluebell Wood, but there’s no getting away from the fact that we need more qualified nurses to ensure that no children and families have to miss out.

“We are currently in the process of recruiting for a range of nursing roles and we hope to welcome some new faces to our team in due course.

“But given the lack of qualified children’s nurses across the sector, this will no doubt continue to prove challenging.

“It’s now clear that we need to see urgent Government action to address this growing workforce crisis.”

The report says that these national staff shortages are having a direct impact on children with life-threatening conditions and their families.

Despite being assessed as needing 24-hour support by the NHS, some children and young people are not getting round the clock care because there are too few carers with the skills and experience needed.

Together for Short Lives and Bluebell Wood are calling on Ministers to end the children’s palliative care workforce crisis by making sure that Health Education England urgently assess the gaps by including the demand from children’s hospices in its planning models.

The Royal College of Nursing and Together for Short Lives is also calling for the Government to invest £1 billion a year into nursing higher education and at least £360 million per year for nurses’ continuing professional development.

Andy Fletcher, Chief Executive of Together for Short Lives, said: “The NHS Long Term Plan identifies children’s palliative care is an important priority for the NHS. Yet the services that provide it are struggling with a dangerous mix of growing staff shortages and rising caseloads.

“It is imperative that ministers make sure the NHS People Plan sets out a programme to boost the number of professionals working with these children in the NHS and voluntary sector, in hospitals, children’s hospices and the community.”


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