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Where are the workforce initiatives?

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  • Are we really solving the most important issues for the profession?
  • Are we focusing on the things that will make the biggest difference – the staffing?
  • Is it time to have an honest conversation about nursing staffing challenges and find a way together to fix this?

I am going to confess something now. Sometimes I hear about nursing initiatives or people talk about a new scheme and I think – yes, but what will it actually do to change things? What do those words mean? What will that actually achieve for nurses? Why will it matter for patients?

“But weeks, months and years later, nothing appears to have changed. Do you ever get that feeling?”

Often I sit inside a conference hall or I read a press release and someone waxes lyrical about some principles that are going to make things better for nursing and improve the quality of healthcare. Often at these conferences people nod and murmur, and there are sometimes rounds of applause. But weeks, months and years later, nothing appears to have changed. Do you ever get that feeling?

It is not every single initiative, don’t get me wrong. There is some good work being done nationally, but on the whole I think we’ve made an industry out of being seen to do something – or more important – being seen to say something. But we don’t actually care about making it happen, or making the changes that will really make a difference.

“If you want to really make a difference in nursing right now, you need to recruit more nurses and keep the ones you’ve got”

Here’s my point. Pretty much the biggest and most important thing we’ve written about in Nursing Times in 2016 is the nursing workforce crisis. So I say to those wanting and able to make a difference - if you want to really make a difference in nursing right now, you need to recruit more nurses and keep the ones you’ve got.

I appreciate we’ve got some work going on in those areas – return to practice initiatives, nursing associate schemes, nurse apprenticeship courses. But against that we’ve got some real challenges – nurses are leaving when they reach pensionable age because working several 12-hour shifts a week can be too tiring and too taxing for a more mature workforce. What’s being done about making shifts more flexible without threatening nurses’ pensions? Who is trying to shape roles for nurses that are manageable as they approach retirement age?

“Can we really justify not paying nurses more when we are struggling to recruit and struggling to retain our nurses?”

Are we really supporting the Come Back to Nursing campaign with attractive advertising to recruit those people who have left the profession? Do we do enough to highlight the breadth and scope of this profession and what you can achieve as a registered nurse and the value it can have? Can we really justify not paying nurses more when we are struggling to recruit and struggling to retain our nurses?

Are we doing enough to ensure that overseas nurses deterred from working over here post-Brexit want to come to the UK?

Nurses are pragmatic and sensible, and aware of how to make a massive difference with even just a little bit of resource. The Nursing Times Awards and the projects we publicise for Nursing Times every week demonstrate that. So why can’t this ingenuity, expertise and practical streak be put into play in fixing our biggest challenges in nursing – our workforce crisis? That is the biggest thing to tackle, and the most important piece of work anyone could do right now.

But I wonder how many conferences I will sit in in 2017 and hear people not discussing that…

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