Every rheumatology specialist nurse increases efficiency in the NHS by a quarter of a million pounds each year according
to new research published by the Royal College of Nursing at its annual Congress in Bournemouth. With 377 rheumatology specialist nurses in England alone, this equates to a total “added value” to the NHS of around £100 million pounds a year.
By managing the bulk of the outpatient workload, rheumatology specialist nurses free up hundreds of appointments for new patients to be seen by a consultant – this represents a saving of £175,168 per nurse each year through increased efficiency. Additionally, as a result of the telephone support specialist nurses provide, many GP appointments can be freed up for other patients, equating to a further £73,588 saving per nurse.
The UK-wide study - Clinical nurse specialists: adding value to care - monitored the working pattern of rheumatology specialist nurses over a year using a software based modelling tool to determine how their time is spent.
The research published today also found that providing administrative support for rheumatology specialist nurses would free up more than six hours of their working week, meaning they could devote even more time to patient care, resulting in further savings to the NHS.
This latest study adds further weight to the College’s recent warning that cutting specialist nurse services for people with long term conditions would be a false economy. The RCN is now calling for the methodology to be rolled out to cover all specialist nurses to identify the true extent of savings that could be made.
Specialist nurse posts, many of which were lost during the deficits crisis of 2006, save millions of pounds from health budgets through reduced complications, fewer hospital re-admissions and the expert long term management of conditions. They also provide many patients and families with a lifeline which no other service can offer.
In spite of this, a recent RCN survey of 60 leading health organisations representing thousands of people with a long-term condition found that only a third (36%) of respondents felt that everyone who needed specialist nursing currently received it. The survey also found:
• More than a third (37%) of respondents had seen cuts in services over the last 12 months
• More than half (57%) were concerned that posts will be threatened in the near future
• Almost all (95%) of the respondents who had seen cuts in services say it is the NHS, rather than other joint-funders, who have cut or reduced funding for specialist nurses
Dr Peter Carter, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary, said:
“The report adds to the growing dossier of evidence showing the economic value of specialist nurses. While the temptation may be to cut or downgrade specialist nursing roles as the drive to make efficiency savings gathers pace, whoever wins the general election must realise that this would be a false economy which would only add to the growing cost of treating long term conditions.
“This study looks at the value of specialist nursing in just one specialty, however, we know that similar findings could be found in other areas. For example, providing community based care for people with Parkinson’s Disease alone could save the government £56 million a year, not to mention reducing the distress to patients and families. When you add up the estimated value of specialist nurses working in the numerous disease specialties, we could well be looking at a billion pounds in total.
“Specialist nurses are a unique lifeline for patients and families, and investing and supporting them should be a no-brainer. They also save money through the better management of conditions, keeping patients out of hospital, and advising on the best drug and other treatments. Putting these posts at risk would be disastrous not just for these patients but for the health service as a whole.”