The state of community nursing in the NHS in England is “lamentable”, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said the current situation is “failing people”.
Community nurses provide care for patients in their own homes or residential care facilities.
Dr Carter told the BBC that the overall state of community nursing was “lamentable”, adding: “With this huge reduction in the numbers of district nurses, while at the same time the massive growth in the population and more and more people with complex conditions, I have to say unfortunately we really are failing people who deserve so much more.”
Figures show that the number of district nurses has fallen by more than 40 per cent in the last decade.
In 2002, there were 12,802 community nurses working in the health service but by 2012 the figure had fallen to 7,457, according to figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre which were released in March.
Dr Carter said: “Care closer to home is not only what patients want, it is what UK health services need to do to avoid costly, lengthy and unnecessary hospital stays.
“However, the number of district nurses has fallen by an astonishing 42 per cent over the last decade. Only five district nurses were trained in London last year. This means that district nurses simply won’t be able to keep on giving the increasingly complex care required to meet the rise in demand.
“Sadly, if community services are not adequately resourced, many older people may face being admitted or readmitted to hospital as an emergency.”
Michael Scott, chairman of the NHS Confederation’s Community Health Services Forum, said: “Across England, patients are clear that they want more and better care provided in their local communities and in their own homes.
“Increased investment in community-based health services will not only help make this a reality, but will also help prevent ill-health and enable early intervention, reducing pressure on other parts of the health system.
“If we get community health care right, patients may not need to attend A&E or be admitted to an acute hospital in the first place.”