'Nursing should be the last place to hunt for cash'
The NHS nurse workforce has fallen by nearly 5,000 in the past two years, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust has offered all its 4,500 staff voluntary redundancy to help it find savings of £20m, and A&E departments are facing increasing pressure.
Add all this together, and I think you’d be correct in feeling like nursing has a target on its back.
While the redundancy situation in Kent or the challenges in A&E aren’t specifically about nursing, you can bet that nursing will not be immune to any loss of posts or increase in pressure. But should it be?
When savings need to be found, it is nursing that will frequently make the biggest sacrifice. And end up filling in because cleaning, portering or secretarial services are also cut.
When will those in charge of health budgets realise that nursing should be the last place to hunt for spare cash, not the first?
Nursing can make huge efficiency savings and can transform services from ward to board - and that is the only way to keep costs low without compromising on quality. And yet, the profession is frequently considered as a costly expense, supposedly large enough to have chunks taken out of without anyone noticing.
But people do notice. Any changes to nursing numbers can be evidenced to adversely affect patient safety. As we reported last week, some hospitals are having to recruit extra staff to ensure patient safety after a surge in demand.
And the problem is not isolated to acute care. As the older district nursing workforce retires, we shall be left with no one to care for people who have been promised care at home. We are told health policy is founded on the potential savings of moving more care into the community but as the district nursing workforce is contracting, the maths isn’t adding up. We are sitting on a workforce timebomb.
And while staffing numbers fall, no one seems to be pouring funding into training more nurses. As our news story revealed in our 18 September issue, nurse training places have been cut by more than 2,500 over three years.
It seems no one is recognising that to cater for an ageing population living longer with an increasing number of complex conditions, we are going to need more nurses, and lots of them. But with the move to more local control, is anyone really going to see the bigger picture and appreciate just how much nurses can do - and what the world would be like with fewer of them?
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