COMMUNITY nursing services in Scotland are under threat as a result of a lack of money and soaring patient demand, a major conference will hear today.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which meets in Liverpool for its annual congress, has said that district nursing services could become unsafe in many parts of the country if action is not taken to avert a staffing crisis.

The body claimed that nurses who visit patients in their own homes will prove essential to the NHS if the Scottish Government is to achieve its aim of seeing an increased number of elderly people cared for in their own homes rather than hospital.

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However, it has said that not enough staff are being put forward by health boards to take a specialist qualification to allow them to work in the community, while more needs to be spent on running education courses.

The Herald has called for a review of staffing capacity both in hospitals and the community to ensure that the NHS is in a position to cope with a spiralling number of elderly patients.

RCN Scotland Associate Director Ellen Hudson said: "District nursing is an invaluable universal service that needs to be protected and invested in if patients are to get the care where and when they need it and if the Scottish Government's own stated ambitions - to shift care from hospitals out to the community - are to be met.

"We're deeply concerned that the expertise of district nurses is being lost ... Many health boards are not investing in training district nurses and there's a real danger that there just won't be enough nurses with the specialist district nursing qualification in future."

A Scottish Government spokesman said it was "committed" to supporting the vital contribution district nurses make to the the community.