17Aug

Along with a national nursing shortage, growing debts and the ongoing dispute about junior doctors’ contracts, the UK’s ageing population is often cited as a major threat to our National Health Service. Today, over 3 million people in the UK are aged 80 or over. Incredibly, by 2050 that number is expected to have almost doubled to 8 million. And, as the population lives for longer than ever, we will require ever greater levels of healthcare, much of which will be accessed via primary care facilities, and provided by community nurses. While serious, life-threatening illness will be staved off by many into the eighth and ninth decades (and beyond), it will be ongoing, low-level health concerns of aged people that will put unprecedented strain on the NHS’s frontline services.

young nurse measuring the patient's blood pressure

Over the last two or three decades, there has been a discernible shift in the roles of GPs and nurses working within primary care. Increasingly, nurses have taken on greater responsibility, undertaking both medical, prescribing and managerial tasks that would previously have fallen to the doctors. However, many experienced nurses have argued that despite being asked to fulfil these much more complex duties, unlike GPs, nurses aren’t always provided with adequate training to complete them with confidence.

At its core, nursing care for elderly patients who are not facing terminal illness is concerned with helping them retain both their independence and a comfortable quality of life. While an elderly person will inevitably be forced to face increased frailty, good community nursing is an important weapon in the NHS’s attempts to make this as pain-free as possible. It seems likely that as ever more people survive beyond their 70s, community nurses will have to upskill, preparing themselves both to prevent disease and illness and to maintain and enhance individuals’ capacity to enjoy life physically, psychologically and socially.

For nurses, this must appear both as an exciting challenge and as a huge undertaking. While once the job of one nurse was much like that of the next, for this and future generations of nurses, the role will become more complex and demanding. A greater number of visits to patients’ homes, a better understanding of geriatric care and, potentially, the requirement to retrain in one or more specialist areas related to the health of elderly people, may arise for many nurses. Contemporary nurses, unlike those who went before them, wear uniforms that tell patients their level of seniority within their teams and they constantly develop their skills through expert training courses; every year nursing is becoming a more complex job.

Right now it’s impossible to say how positive the impact of community nursing will be in the push to improve elderly care. However, it certainly seems that nowadays, particularly when it comes to elderly patients, nursing is no longer ‘just a job’, it is an exceptionally important career.

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One Response to How the growing elderly care sector is leading to increased responsibility for nurses

  1. talkhealth talkhealth

    Really interesting blog post Chris, thank you!

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