The fight to keep heart failure nurses


Heart failure patients value specialist nurses, but we may have to fight to keep them.

There are 920,000 people living with heart failure in the UK. Specialist nurses who make a vital difference to the lives of heart failure patients are under threat.

“We speak to thousands of heart failure patients annually and they say that the one person they cannot do without is their Heart Failure Specialist Nurse.”

Nick Hartshorne-Evans,
Pumping Marvellous Foundation, the UK’s patient-led heart failure charity.

A diagnosis of heart failure – where the heart fails to pump efficiently, depriving the body of oxygen and nutrients – means learning a new way of life. Specialist nurses coach patients and their families to live with the condition as well as they possibly can.

“Between 30 and 40% of people diagnosed with heart failure die within a year, but swift diagnosis and referral to a specialist nurse may improve the prognosis for individual patients,” says Hartshorne-Evans, a heart failure patient himself.

As well as helping patients manage the condition, the nurses can make referrals to other members of the medical team and sign post to external organisations such as Citizens' Advice. “Symptoms, include breathlessness, extreme fatigue and fluid overload, which can mean some patients lose their jobs and homes. Nurses can help” says Hartshorne-Evans.


Specialist nursing care also prevents hospital admissions


Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalisation in UK over-65s. With an average hospital stay of 10 days, it is responsible for more bed days than any other condition. In-patients, on average, cost £400 a day.

Hartshorne-Evans says: “Heart failure nurses who are able to prescribe can adjust levels of medications to suit changes in the patient's symptoms. These specialist nurses can also give early warning of problems, so fewer patients may require hospitalisation.”

However, Hartshorne-Evans says: “It is becoming apparent that Heart Failure Specialist Nursing is at risk. There are examples of where areas are losing services and nurses not being replaced.”


"More specialist nurses would improve patients' lives"


Moreover, the availability of heart failure nurses – especially those with the power to prescribe – is patchy. Some areas have no community heart failure nurses at all, including one city of 700,000 people.

“We need to see equity in provisioning and an increase in the availability of community services, where nurses work out of local clinics and can visit patients' homes. Heart failure nurses are the first port of call for their patients. Without them, doctor's surgeries would be overrun, and expensive hospital stays would soar.”

“More specialist nurses, with the capacity to prescribe, would improve patients' lives and save the NHS money. You wouldn’t deny services to a person with cancer; not should you with heart failure.”