Diabetes Specialist Nurses: improving patient outcomes and reducing costs

Between 2010 and 2012, the levels of diagnosed diabetes for England (as recorded by QOF) rose by 10 per cent. Yet in the same period there was a fall of 3 per cent in the number of sites who employ any Diabetes Specialist Nurses (DSNs). We will all be familiar with the argument that the NHS is at breaking point and that cuts are a necessary evil. However, by reviewing the evidence base we can confidently state that cutting DSN posts is short-termist and wrong.

Barbara Young, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, said, "Diabetes Specialist Nurses are the lynchpins of quality diabetes care. As well as being a vital link between hospitals and community services, they train other healthcare professionals about diabetes care, give people the education they need to manage their own condition, and help make sure people with diabetes get the hospital care they need.

"Ultimately, their work helps to shorten hospital stays and prevent devastating diabetes-related complications so, whether you are looking at this from the point of view of people’s health or the NHS’s finances, the stagnating DSN staffing levels is deeply worrying. When you combine this with the figures showing half of all DSNs expecting to retire within 10 years there is a real fear of a black hole opening up in diabetes care. Unless the number of DSNs starts to rise along with the rising number of people with diabetes, their work will be spread increasingly thinly and this will have a serious impact. Together with the gradual erosion of their professional status, this will mean they will not be able to offer a good standard of care to all their patients.

"The NHS urgently needs to recognise the importance of DSNs and to end the recruitment freezes that are happening in far too many places. We then need to see NHS organisations take action to ensure we increase the number of them in the short term, and then start planning for the future so we can meet the minimum recommended staffing levels and help make sure people with diabetes get the quality of healthcare they need."

Working together with TREND-UK and the Royal College of Nursing, we have set out the evidence base that proves the value of DSNs and illustrated practical steps that can be taken across the health system to improve the situation.