Nurses who are diagnosed with dementia should keep their jobs and be allowed to continue caring for patients, the profession’s trade union has demanded. The Royal College of Nursing said the health service should “set an example” to the rest of society by allowing staff with the degenerative condition to carry on working.
The organisation insisted nurses with the disease could continue practising without posing a risk to patients, but safety groups branded the proposal “frightening and extraordinary”.
Under current Nursing and Midwifery Council rules, which do not explicitly mention dementia, nurses must be able to deliver “safe and effective practice” and must take “all reasonable personal precautions” to avoid causing risk to the public.
But in reality, the “assumption” is that a diagnosis marks the end of a nurse’s career, according to RCN President Janet Davies.
On Monday, the college passed a resolution stating that staff with the disease should keep their jobs, providing they are not allowed to make “critical decisions” or precise calculations such as measuring out medicines.
Joanna James, of the college’s Older People’s Forum, said: “We should be embracing nurses with dementia, making it possible for them to continue to deliver excellent patient care in spite of their disability. It will send the right message.”
Each year around 42,000 people in the UK develop dementia in the years before they turn 65, approximately five per cent of all sufferers, and an ageing nursing workforce means increasing numbers of staff are expected to develop the condition.
There are currently around 270,000 nurses working in the NHS, with a third expected to retire in the next three years.
Janet Davies said there were “lots” of roles a nurse diagnosed with dementia could perform, including caring for patients.
However, safety campaigners Patient Concern said the union had “lost its mind”. Joyce Robins, a spokeswoman, said: “This motion is frightening and quite extraordinary. I would not want someone with dementia treating me.
“I would be worried that they may give me the wrong medication or forget how to perform a life-saving procedure. They could kill someone.”
She added: “People with dementia are the ones that should be receiving care, not giving it.”
Although the RCN resolution was passed by a clear majority, it was vigorously opposed by some nurses who said that dementia could be deceptive and that, even after diagnosis, people with the condition can appear more capable than they really are.
Shirley Ali, a nurse from South East London, said: “If I was ill and I had dementia, I wouldn’t want me to be looking after me. “If I have dementia, how am I ensuring patient safety?”
Around 1 million people in the UK are expected to be suffering from dementia by 2021.
Matthew Norton, Director of Policy at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: “Dementia is a progressive condition, and in the early stages symptoms may appear gradually over many months or even years before a diagnosis is made.
"The impact of the condition can vary hugely from one person to another, with some people experiencing a much slower decline in thinking and memory skills than others. The Alzheimer’s Society, which represents people with the condition, welcomed the RCN vote.
Jackie Smith, Chief Executive and Registrar of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, said: "We agree that employers should provide reasonable support for any nurse or midwife with a disability - including dementia - so that they can continue to make a valuable contribution towards delivering care.
"However, at the same time, this does need to be balanced with the requirement that every individual nurse and midwife on our register needs to be able to provide safe and effective care as set out in the Code. Paragraph 20.9 of the Code states that all nurses and midwives must maintain the level of health they need to carry out their professional role.”
By Henry Bodkin. Source: Telegraph
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