Swansea University Medical School is addressing the shortage of Diabetes Specialist Nurses in NHS


Over three and a half million people in the UK are currently living with diabetes, and as that number continues to increase, the role of the diabetes specialist nurse (DSN) is becoming increasingly important. Swansea University Medical School is responding to this training gap with an innovative new distance learning Master’s course.

The latest Diabetes UK Workforce Survey (2016) highlighted that DSN workload has increased in volume and complexity since the previous 2012 survey. However, almost one-third of DSN posts have been cut or downgraded, or many left unfilled due to recruitment difficulties. The survey also uncovered that 57% of current DSNs will be eligible for retirement within the next 10 years.

Currently, training for DSNs is vocational, however, due to a lack of support to attain the qualifications and the experience necessary to progress and without succession planning, there will be no continuity of training for future DSNs. With the advancements in treatments and technology for diabetes, education for healthcare professionals (HCP) throughout primary and secondary care is required.

Swansea University Medical School new Master’s programme is working to close this training gap.

The School’s new distance learning programme has been developed jointly by Dr Rebecca Thomas and Dr Sarah Prior at Swansea University Medical School and is led by leading UK Consultant Diabetologist Professor Stephen Bain, from ABM University Health Board.

Dr Rebecca Thomas says: “The challenge of the recruitment, retention and training of diabetes specialist nurses (DSNs) was highlighted at a recent All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Diabetes last year.”

“The DSN role is vital for people with diabetes and DSNs have been facing overwhelming challenges. The workforce is getting smaller while the demand and case complexity is getting bigger.”

The MSc Diabetes Practice has been specifically designed for healthcare professionals – particularly current or future DSNs – wanting to specialise in the field of diabetes. This is a modular distance learning course, offering HCPs the opportunity to graduate with an MSc Diabetes Practice Postgraduate degree studying full or part-time. The course not only includes specialised training, diagnostic and assessment-based knowledge but also encompasses personal and professional development, reflective practice and problem-based learning.

Skills needed to keep up with latest developments:

Dr Partha Kar, Consultant Diabetologist at Portsmouth NHS trust says: “Diabetes specialist nurses (DSN) are a vital part of the multidisciplinary team – perhaps even the lynchpin of diabetes specialist teams. Part of the £40 million NHS England diabetes transformation funds has been spent on increasing the number of DSNs.

“However, currently, there is no standard qualification for DSNs, making it difficult for people living with diabetes to know the level of expertise their nurses have.

“In order to improve outcomes, it is important that the diabetes multidisciplinary team ensures their knowledge and skills keep up with the latest advancements in therapies and technology in order to best meet the needs of their patients.”

Dr Sarah Prior explains: “We have designed the programme to fit around the lives of busy health professionals – as well as being offered as an online distance learning course, we can also offer the option of part-time Master’s, Postgraduate Diplomas and Postgraduate Certificates and individual CPD modules. There are also many funding options including bursaries, postgraduate loans and medical school scholarships.”

Professor Keith Lloyd, Head of the Medical School at Swansea University, said there is high quality activity taking place in the diabetes field right across the medical School. He said: “As a top 3 UK Medical School, we are working to ensure the wealth of diabetes expertise we have within the school has impact both in terms of research to develop new drugs and treatments but also to upskill our NHS workforce. We are delighted to have just launched our first distance learning MSc in Diabetes Practice which starts in September.

“We are also gaining recognition internationally with Professor David Owens, Diabetes Research Unit Cymru Lead for Retinopathy, being shortlisted in The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) 2018 Excellence in Patient Care Awards. The awards recognise outstanding clinical activity that contributes to excellent patient care.”

Cwm Taf University Health Board nurse ready to start new course:

Nicola Hewer is a DSN at Cwm Taf University Health Board. She is starting the MSc in Diabetes Practice in September.

She says: “As a Community Diabetes Specialist Nurse working for a large Welsh NHS Trust, I face various complex care challenges on a daily basis. My job is very diverse and has both educational and clinical components to it. The number and complexity of people with diabetes is increasing, and I feel that the MSc in Diabetes Practice at Swansea University Medical School will help ensure I am fully equipped to effectively deal with any given situation.

“This course is of particular interest to me as it will allow me to study in my own time to fit in with my busy family and work life. Another plus is that I can choose to do a work-based portfolio, rather than writing another dissertation. I am really looking forward to starting the course in September and am particularly excited about meeting up with other specialists in this field to share best practice during the two residential weeks.”

To find out more about the MSc in Diabetes Practice at Swansea University Medical School email: study@swansea.ac.uk.

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