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CNO quizzed by MPs on tackling nurse staffing shortage


Improved career progression for healthcare assistants and conversion of agency staff to permanent employees, as well as the continued use of overseas recruitment, will be used in a multi-pronged approach to tackle the current staffing shortage, according to the chief nursing officer for England.

NHS England is “looking across the board” at a range of strategies to close the “short-term” gap between nurse vacancies and the number of registrants available to fill them, Jane Cummings told MPs last week.

“Ultimately the health service needs to pay the going rate relative to the private sector in order to recruit and retain the staff we need”

Simon Stevens

NHS England’s senior team was questioned by the Commons’ health select committee on the issues facing the health service. It was the the MPs’ first session since the new government was formed.

They were asked by committee member Helen Whately, Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, whether there was enough of a supply of home grown nurses to reduce overseas recruitment – which has become increasingly relied upon in recent years.

The CNO denied there was a problem with the supply of nurses in the UK, noting that the number of applications to undergraduate nursing programmes significantly exceeded the course places available.

She highlighted recent predictions by national workforce planning body Health Education England that increases in training places would provide 23,000 extra nurses by 2019.

But she said NHS England would be looking at a range of methods to fill the current “short- term” gap between vacancies and nurses.

These will include creating more opportunities for HCAs to see their skills recognised beyond the recently introduced care certificate, said Ms Cummings.

She referred to plans mooted following a recent major review of education and training for nurses, which included a recommendation that HCAs should be able to use their existing experience to complete undergraduate nurse programmes in less than three years.

“We want to look at what are the competencies that are needed and how do we allow healthcare assistants to be able to progress to do different things, and then potentially to use those qualifications to enter nurse training,” said Ms Cummings.

Earlier on in the session, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens also noted the importance of converting temporary nursing staff into permanent workers.

He said: “The single most important thing we’ve go to do to stabilise provider finance this year is to dial back the spending on agency staffing.”

In his first interview with Nursing Times earlier this year, Mr Stevens earmarked cutting nurse agency spending as a key priority.

MPs also heard suggestions from Mr Stevens that recently announced proposals for councils to save £200m from public health budgets “would not be a smart approach” in the future.

However, he said it was too early to know what the exact impact of the cuts would be on frontline services commissioned by local authorities, such as family planning, sexual health and obesity clinics.

Meanwhile, he responded to a question about the recent government announcement of further pay restraint for public sector workers over the next four years.

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens

“In the fullness of time, ultimately the health service needs to pay the going rate relative to the private sector in order to recruit and retain the staff we need,” said Mr Stevens.

However, in light of the current focus on seven-day services, NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh did tell MPs he would shortly publish research confirming a “weekend effect” in the NHS, including higher mortality.


Sir Bruce Keogh

Sir Bruce said his work was due to be published soon, but told MPs it would support previous research showing there was higher mortality at weekends.

He said the research showed patient mortality increased by 10% compared to a weekday for those admitted on a Saturday, and by 15% for those admitted on a Sunday.

He also said “there was pretty clear evidence of a weekend effect” starting on Friday and carrying on into Monday.

He said there was a 2% rise in mortality for patients admitted on a Friday and a 5% increase for those admitted on a Monday.


Readers' comments (10)

  • Having been a nurse for 20 years and most of which has been in the independent care sector the mass levels of research in terms of nurse shortages always appears to be NHS focused.

    Care Assistants can do more nowadays but society i.e. CCG / CQC / LA's have the same old stance that for a person to receive a clinical task then a nurse is required to perform it.....this has to change....the HCA's can do tasks once seen as only a nurses duty providing competency and training is robust and supervised by a practising registered nurse who is happy under the NMC duties of delegation guidance to do

    Nurses need to manage care not do it all this is why nurses are leaving the profession....this is why burn out is occurring.....I do not believe that nursing student interest has increased as nursing has lost its focus and needs to be re-ignited

    Move from an old culture to nurses becoming directors of care and doing duties when it counts knowing others can do other duties under their guidance which inevitably would increase patient / resident care moving forward

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  • She can multi-prong all she likes but I don't think most agency will want to be permanent and put up with the nonsense that goes on!! She's in cloud cuckoo land and is,in fact,saying nothing new.

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  • I work for the nhs because I am committed to its survival. I also work for an agency to satisfy my need to be treated with respect and earn a reasonable rate of pay to reflect my qualifications and experience

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  • These people in their ivory towers need to get out into the real world and then they might understand why there is a staffing crisis. Get out and talk to nurses and see what they actually have to do, the demands made on them are just too much with the increasing amount of admin and paperwork. Priorities are:

    Decent pay with REALISTIC cost of living increases
    PROPER reimbursement to community nurses for using their own cars. What other employer expects staff to fund their own cars to visit "customers" and then refuses to pay them for the true cost of running the car????
    Stop messing about with pensions
    Decent overtime rates for the hugely disuptive shifts
    Proper CPD
    Career progression for those who want it.
    Free parking at workplace!!!!
    (I am a community nurse and on top of all the other c*** they have recently heaped on us, we are now told they are taking away our parking and we will have to pay or trail round streets looking for parking. Oh, and we are not allowed to carry our drug cases in public - how do the powers that be work that one out eh??)

    Frankly, this job is not worth doing now, but most people are trapped in it by the pension.

    Angry - you bet I am.

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  • I think student nurses who fail academic work from the last block of second year / in third year, should be given the opportunity to accept a qualification which gives them recognition as a Band 4 AP. They've done the work to be entitled to that band.

    I have seen some great student nurses having to leave because they were not academically strong and it is a shame. These people should not be lost and Band 4's are still valuable within the NHS as they can take their own patients, just without the medications. I have seen the value of this on many wards.

    We always talk about how the NHS is an MDT and not every thing should be blamed on the nurse etc. I think we should be mindful of the value of Band 4's on the ward and utilise this more.

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  • I feel like this hasn't really responded to what we are going to do now to make a difference, fine we have a plan for 2019 but right now due to financial constraints the NHS is struggling to run areas.

    What is needed is an increase that is finance to allow Trusts to fund the right amount of staff.

    The constant attacks on pay are not going to convince people to come into the profession and come 2020 being a qualified nurse will not seem tempting in terms of wage as there will be very little difference between minimum wage and the bottom of an AFC band 5.

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  • nurses are answerable to their patients and employers, not to MPs!

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  • where is the link to the above video?

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  • I'm so glad I have retired but I'm tempted to do care work as the pay is almost as good as registered nurse pay.

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  • The CNO denied there was a problem with the supply of nurses in the UK, noting that the number of applications to undergraduate nursing programmes significantly exceeded the course places available....obviously Jane doesn't read the HSJ

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