A JOINT task force of representatives from the NHS and independent care providers is being set up to find an answer to the chronic shortage of qualified nurses.
This major initiative is a response to the growing crisis across Wales which is forcing nursing homes to close – with many other being pushed to the brink.
The new approach was unveiled at the All Wales Nurse Conference, organised by Care Forum Wales.
It comes on the heels of news that the Bush House nursing home in Pembroke Dock is deregistering its nursing beds and the decision by care firm, HC-One, to close Abergarw Manor in Brynmenyn and Southmead Grange in South Cornelly, because of “a national shortage of nursing staff”.
According to Care Forum Wales, many nursing homes in North Wales are already struggling and they expect a number of closures to happen.
The idea of more collaboration between the indpendent sector and the NHS has the endorsement of a leading health union official who said it should improve standards of patient care.
The task force will also investigate ways in which the independent sector and the NHS can cooperate more closely and share good practice.
The day-long conference, which was attended by over 70 nurses from across the country along with key NHS and health union officials, put a number of issues affecting the profession under the spotlight.
One of the main themes of the day was collaborative working between the NHS and independent companies to address the growing problem of a shortage of qualified nurses to work in both care sectors.
Kim Ombler, a director of the independent Glan Rhos nursing home in Brynsiencyn on Anglesey which cares for 52 patients, welcomed delegates to the conference on behalf of Care Forum Wales, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1993 to give independent care providers a single professional voice.
Kim said: “It was a very successful conference and perhaps the single most important thing to come out of it was news of the setting up of a joint task force comprising people from the independent care sector and the NHS in Wales.
“Hopefully, working alongside the main universities, such as Glyndwr and Bangor where more nurses could be trained, this aims to find an answer to the problem of a shortage of qualified nurses which is affecting both sectors at the moment.
“The theme of collaborative working was introduced early in the day by Angela Hopkins, Director of Nursing for the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, who chaired the conference.
“It was she who put forward the idea of the joint task force and the plan to set it up will now go forward.
“Another priority will be to examine how we as independent providers can work more closely with the NHS and share good practice.
“It is in everybody’s interests that we find a way of establishing a more joined up approach, not least because many of the residents in nursing homes are sponsored by the NHS.
“There is still a lot of work to do on the details but everyone agreed that this is a major step forward and we believe it is the first time that anything like this will have been done in Wales.”
Kim, whose own family-run nursing home is due to celebrate its 25th anniversary in November, added: “I believe that we should definitely be working more closely with the NHS in Wales to address the general shortage of nurses.
“This has led to a number of nursing homes in South Wales having to close because they can’t recruit enough trained nursing staff.
“We are all fighting for the same nurses, so we need to look at how our workforce development is planned over the next 10 years.”
One of the key speakers at the conference was Nigel Downs, Primary Care and Independent Sector Adviser in Wales for health union the Royal College of Nursing.
Mr Downes, who has worked as a nurse and is also a qualified solicitor, gave his support to the new task force and said: “Anything to do with collaborative working should have a beneficial effect on both the independent sector and the NHS and help to improve standards of patient care.
“There is currently a shortage of qualified nurses in Wales. In fact, a recent paper on the NHS acute sector shows that while the average care ratio is one staff nurse to every eight patients in the rest of the UK, in Wales it is one to every 10 patients.
“The RCN is therefore supporting the preparation of legislation by Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, for the Welsh NHS average to be improved.
“If this goes ahead perhaps it could eventually also apply in community health settings and, in the future, also to every care sector.
“This is important because good staffing levels lead to good morale and better patient care.”
Mr Downs, who spoke on the importance of the keeping of accurate patient records, said that Llandudno had been a successful conference at which delegates had engaged with the speakers.
He added: “As we union we think that these sort of conferences are fantastic.”
Another hot topic for debate at the conference was the recent controversial statement by Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive for England, that he will be disappointed if nursing homes still exist in 50 years’ time.
Kim Ombler said: “I believe he said this on the basis that advances in dementia research can be used to help people stay in their homes. But the general belief of conference delegates was that while there is a place for taking care of people in their own homes, sometimes a point is reached where their needs cannot be met in the community.
“These days care homes are providing a service which is very much like the old cottage hospitals and our aim is to stop admissions to hospitals where possible.”
Another speaker at the event at Venue Cymru in Llandudno was Gill Hughes, the Responsible Individual for Promoting Clinical Excellence at Pendine Park Care Home in Wrexham, whose subject was the past, present and future of care homes.
There was also a discussion on the Gold Standard Framework for palliative care, accreditation for which the Pendine organisation’s Highfield care home was the first in Wales to achieve, and details were given of the groundbreaking helpline set up at St Kentigern Hospice in St Asaph which allows nursing home staff to call a dedicated number for advice on palliative care for their residents.