- No policy is focusing on retaining nurses once they can collect their pensions
- Focusing only on the numbers entering the profession is a mistake that will cost us dear
- The gap between supply and demand is widening
- We need to be more flexible in working patterns and type of work to keep our ageing workforce longer
The focus in nursing workforce recently has all been about the drop in students applying for nursing courses since the removal of the bursary. Everyone is concerned that we don’t have enough nurses entering the profession, and hence trusts scrambling for experienced nurses, clamouring for the students who do graduate with shiny new nursing degrees, and begging to be the next pilot for the nursing associate programme.
But to be honest, there is another big issue exacerbating the nursing shortage that no one seems to be addressing – the number of nurses who are retiring or will be eligible to do so in the next few years.
“One in three nurses are due to retire in the next 10 years”
The Royal College of Nursing has issued warnings about one in three nurses being due to retire in the next 10 years, but to be honest, there is no sign that anyone who can address this issue is taking an interest.
The gap between demand and supply of nurses is widening, and this is not just because of the government reducing training places in the last years of the bursary and fewer people applying for nurse training now the bursary has been scrapped; a significant – and growing – part of the problem is the result of large numbers of nurses opting to retire as soon as they are able to.
I have not heard of any national policy or strategy to retain those nurses, ensure they stay on rather than heading out the door to collect their NHS pensions.
Who is investing in creating flexible working patterns or changing nursing roles to ensure nurses can work into their late fifties and sixties, without having to do 12-hour shifts, nights or the hard physical work involved in nursing care?
The drain of these senior nurses from the profession seems to be happening without anyone seeming to care.
“Many of these nurses have invaluable experience that takes years to develop”
The problem isn’t simply that older nurses leaving the profession will leave absent spots on the rosters up and down the country, posts unfilled and patients uncared for. Just as important is the loss of their talent, knowledge and expertise that goes with them.
Many of these nurses have invaluable experience that takes years to develop. They are the senior managers, charge nurses, advanced nurse practitioners and the ward nurses that everyone – including junior doctors – turn to for help. When these nurses go they take their abilities, training, insight and experience with them; they don’t simply leave behind a vacant post, they also leave a knowledge vacuum that can’t be filled by newly qualified nurses.
“It still sees doctors as the most important commodity in any care setting”
Of course the government doesn’t really care about that. Despite all the evidence that care quality and patient safety are linked to numbers of registered nurses it still sees doctors as the most important commodity in any care setting. Judging by its treatment of the profession the government thinks registered nurses do little more than dress wounds, change bed pans and mop brows – and are readily replaceable by less expensive nursing staff.
But clinical nurse specialist roles pass on skills enabling generalist health professionals to manage patients’ specialist needs, and step in to take over for those with more complex needs. Skilled ward managers ensure patients experience safe and compassionate care, while senior nurses managers have developed strategic and organisational skills in addition to their understanding of the nuts and bolts of clinical care. Healthcare provision will be seriously undermined by the absence of these roles. When these people leave nursing, they leave a huge hole, and I fear that the government will only realise that when it’s too late.
Trusts can race to fill their departments with nursing associates all they want, and attempt to keep their student intakes up, but unless there are experienced nurses on hand to train and mentor these new entrants to the profession, I fear there may be greater trouble ahead.