Community nursing may appear to be ‘straightforward’ – helping patients and delivering medical care in the community. However, the role of a community nurse is not simple, and there are varying specialisms within this field.
We’re going to look into the differences between two of those roles; a community (or district) nurse and a mental health community nurse. Breaking down how they are different and similar and how the two roles work alongside each other in the community.
What does a Community Nurse do?
Firstly, let’s address the language around Community or District Nurse. Both titles can be seen as one and the same; it depends on where you are in the country and the seniority of the role. Sometimes a senior nurse may be called ‘district’ who is in charge of a team of ‘community’ nurses.
The terms are interchangeable, and often there is no difference between a community or district nurse. For this blog, we’ll use the term, Community Nurse.
So what is the role of a Community Nurse?
Community Nurses (as the title suggests) work with patients in the community, including in their homes or nursing homes. The role is there to support people managing long-term health conditions who no longer need to be in the hospital. Keeping patients well and cared for in the community will hopefully prevent them from going into hospital, though this is not always the case.
Community nurses will often work with elderly patients, though they also support terminally ill patients or those living with a disability. The job is varied and involves a lot of travelling, and of course, working with people’s families when delivering care at home.
Being a community nurse is also about supporting and enabling patients and their families to care for themselves. Providing guidance, advice, and support so that people can live a more independent life at home and manage their conditions to the best of their ability.
Duties carried out by Community Nurses include, but are not limited to:
- Assessing patient health care needs
- Basic care (checking blood pressure, temperature, etc.)
- Wound management
- Administering injections
- Assisting doctors with examinations and procedures in the home
What does a Mental Health Community Nurse do?
Similar to community nurses, mental health community nurses work one-to-one with patients delivering care in patients’ homes. The patients they see can be more varied than that of a community nurse due to the breadth of patients that need to be seen within the community following the mass closure of psychiatric “asylums” in the ’70s and ’80s.
The patients seen by mental health community nurses include but are not limited to;
- The Elderly
Though they will mostly be working autonomously, the nurses are part of a larger team. This team can include other medical professionals such as; psychologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, and GPs. The teams they work within will dictate what role they play within the community.
Teams that mental health community nurses can work within include:
There are a wide variety of specialist teams across the UK that mental health community nurses can work within. Many nurses will go on to specialise in one area of mental health nursing by undertaking further study after they have qualified.
Both nursing roles require working with patients in their homes, though community nurses will see more patients in a day than mental health nurses. Community nurses will average 10 – 12 patients, while mental health community nurses will average 2 – 3, depending on their workload.
Both community nurses and mental health community nurses work as part of a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) in the community. Most of their patient care is delivered by one nurse independently in patients’ homes.
Mental health community nurses will spend more time with patients due to the nature of their work, but both community and mental health community nurses work holistically with patients.
This means they look at the patient as a whole, taking into account factors such as:
- Mental health
- Physical health
- Social support systems
This is where community and community mental health nursing really comes into its own and has many areas of cross-over where community and mental health teams work together.
How do these roles work alongside each other in the community?
Community nursing always requires joined-up working with other medical and social care professionals. This means that community district nurses and mental health community nurses will often need to work together to support patients.
This is often when patients require care for both their mental and physical health. It may be the case that medications for both mental health and physical conditions affect each other and so need to be monitored closely by both teams.
There is also the possibility that a patient’s mental health may impact their ability to take care of their physical health. In this case, community nurses and mental health nurses will have to work together to support the patient to continue their treatment in the community and prevent hospital admission.
Community nursing is a varied, autonomous, and exciting role for qualified nurses. To find out more about community nursing, visit: https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/explore-roles/nursing/roles-nursing/district-nurse
Are you a community district or mental health nurse? Let us know if you would add any other key differences or similarities about your roles in the comments.