In the past few years we have seen a plethora of critical reports about NHS care, and in the vast majority nurses came in for a kicking. There have, of course, been examples of poor practice, some of which have led to criminal prosecutions. However, there is a general acceptance both within the profession and from independent commentators that the vast majority of poor practice can be linked to low ratios of registered nurses.
It takes time to offer compassionate, safe and dignified nursing care, and while unregistered staff such as healthcare assistants can undoubtedly do this within their levels of competency, some aspects of care require the input of registered nurses. How depressing, therefore, to read that the NHS has lost over 5,000 nurses in the past three years.
Given that some trusts have been recruiting additional nurses in the wake of the Francis Report, this drop is not spread across the entire service. It seems that some still don’t get it – qualified nurse numbers are inextricably linked with the quality and safety of care. They may cost more to employ than HCAs, but the people deciding to make short-term savings but cutting nurse numbers should look at the research. Qualified nurses make significant long-term savings by cutting patient care costs.
Six months on from the Francis report it is surely time for the government to make good on its promise to ask the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to develop evidence-based tools for establishing minimum safe staffing levels. Without official guidance or recommendations some parts of the NHS will continue to view their qualified nurses as a first target when implementing cost savings. This blinkered attitude is bad for the profession and even worse for patients – and increases the likelihood that we’ll see more reports of localised problems that reduce confidence in the entire NHS.