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With the launch of our latest research report, Head of Policy John Hopgood looks at the challenges facing our nurse members.

In our our latest report, Specialist Nursing in Rheumatology: The State of Play, we shone the spotlight on one of the key parts of the rheumatology multidisciplinary team, the specialist nurse. Working with the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society and the RCN’s Rheumatology Forum, we were able to carry out one of the biggest surveys of the workforce to date, and the result is a comprehensive look at issues facing our members. You can read the full report here.

It’s no surprise that one of the biggest issues to come out of the report is the excessive workload that colleagues are facing. More than eight out of ten respondents reported that there are aspects of care that their team simply cannot provide as things stand, simply because of the workload they’re facing. More than two-thirds told us that, despite a significant increase in patient numbers – and, frequently, responsibilities that come with the role – over the past few years, their departments have seen no increase in staffing levels. We’re very clear that this is something that needs to be addressed urgently.

Though funding is always a major concern, a key part of the problem lies in recruiting new people to the profession. A quarter of departments currently have unfilled nursing roles, and almost half agreed that there was demand for new roles in their department, but not enough skilled nurses available to fill those roles.

One of our key recommendations in the report is that NHS boards need to start prioritising succession planning. This can’t just mean putting out job adverts when a position comes vacant – we need to make sure that there is proper career progression for specialist nurses, and proper training available to help new entrants join the specialty.

Training is a real issue. Survey respondents told us that they frequently have difficulty accessing rheumatology nursing courses, with more than half saying that they don’t have access to funding, and a third highlighting the lack of courses available. We’re already trying to help with this – running three dedicated nursing courses this year, with member discounts and some bursaries available – but it’s clear that this is an issue that goes beyond the support that we can deliver. We’re calling on the NHS to ensure that every specialist nurse has a dedicated training plan and with access to appropriate funding.

We also need to see greater visibility for rheumatology. Our 2018 Best Practice Award winners at Stobhill Hospital have developed a fantastic partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University to put together a dedicated training programme, and we want to see this model replicated elsewhere. As well as this, it’s vital that there is a greater emphasis placed on rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases in all undergraduate, specialty and GP training programmes.

That’s a lot to cover, but it’s where the policy and public affairs team will be focusing much of our effort over the coming months. Our members are our biggest asset in arguing for change, so we’re hugely grateful to everybody who took the time to complete our survey last year – we hope that we’ve picked up the issues that you’re facing in your work. But of course, please do keep in touch – let us know if there are other things you’re coming up against, or, even better, if you’re interested in getting involved with our work! You can get us at policy@rheumatology.org.uk – we’d love to hear your views.