It’s that time of year again. The Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress is upon us and by the time you read this Andrew Lansley will have inevitably endured a frosty reception from delegates.
The health secretary’s failure to address the full conference in 2011 coupled with his unpopular Health and Social Care Bill – now act – were only going to make his task more difficult this year.
Much has happened since last year’s conference, the majority as gloomy as most of this spring’s weather. The wrangle over NHS pensions appears to be almost over, with ministers apparently in the box seat to force through their “final offer”. And the first sparring has begun over what unions see as the real battleground, Agenda for Change. This all comes against a background of an overall pay freeze for most NHS nursing staff and the loss of posts.
Latest figures from the RCN’s Frontline First campaign suggested 26,300 NHS posts had gone in the two years to April with a further 34,700 at risk over the next three years.
But this week we report on a glimmer of sunshine, in the West Midlands. Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust is introducing ward matrons. Rather than a “bring back matron” headline grabber, the trust sees it as a way of boosting nurse leadership without losing any clinical capacity. The trust estimates the move will cost nearly £700,000 a year in extra staffing costs, but hopes to save much more than this through better patient outcomes.
This is the sort of forward thinking that the NHS needs. Rather than viewing cuts to the staff pay bill as the path of least resistance for quick financial gain, managers should seek to make savings through better care standards by investing in skilled nurses. This would be better for staff, better for patients, better for everyone.
There are also other crumbs of comfort. The Nursing and Care Quality Forum has begun its work. Although it is easy to be cynical about the forum’s political birth, its members seem serious and focused about helping nursing during a difficult period. They should take note of what Sandwell and West Birmingham is doing.
Also, in a few weeks, a new chief nursing officer for England will take up her appointment full time. Jane Cummings is already starting to speak out on issues such as pride in nursing, and is a passionate advocate of nurses leading improvements in care.
If you are at congress, I hope you are having a good one. And to everyone, a belated happy Nurses’ Day.
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