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The BBC has discovered there's a shortage of nurses!

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On The Pulse is a weekly round-up of what’s happening in nursing or an analysis of a key nursing issue, written by Nursing Times staff.

This week: news editor, Steve Ford, analyses the news from the BBC that nurse shortages are more widespread than perhaps the public realised.

Monday was very much an NHS themed day for the BBC. The lead story of the day on breakfast bulletins was an investigation revealing that the health service had thousands of vacancies for nurses and doctors.

The supporting cast was provided by a piece on the financial pressures faced by community pharmacist and the good news that Pauline Cafferkey had been discharged from the Royal Free, after once again recovering from the complications of ebola.

“I thought, hang-on, surely everyone knows there is a nurse shortage”

It was the story on NHS vacancies though that was given the big push, with the entire BBC network revealing that the health service was short of nurses and doctors across each region via TV, radio and online coverage, all in their different way.

I thought, hang-on, surely everyone knows there is a nurse shortage. Is this really “news”, I asked the television? After all, we have been regularly reporting on this for several years now.

Nursing Times, along with many other publications across the health sector, has been highlighting it in investigations and surveys – as demonstrated by the media coverage we had for our last two annual surveys across the media. Unions, think-tanks and political parties have also been making the point at national media level on weekly basis.

We can even break it down a bit. There is the shortage of district and community nurses, the shortage of practice and primary care nurses, the shortage of mental health nurses, the shortage of school nurses, oh and the shortage of midwives and neonatal nurses – apologies if I’ve missed your particular setting off the list.

To be fair to the Beeb, they had some decent new figures to back up their revelation. Their data, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, showed that on 1 December 2015, the NHS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had more than 23,443 nursing vacancies – which it noted was equivalent to 9% of the workforce (Scotland was missed out for some reason).

The findings are set to form the centre point of tonight’s edition of the Inside Out programme, which will be aired on BBC One at 7:30pm.

“If the corporation says there is a nurse shortage, then there must be one – it’s official”

For my part, I started the day on BBC Radio Cumbria talking about the issue and giving some national context and finished the day doing the same on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire.

Among other points, I was asked about the significance of the shortage, the pressure of NHS finances, competition for staff between trusts, and the efforts and challenges of recruiting overseas nurses.

I was also asked whether I thought the situation would get better any time soon, to which I had to admit that I couldn’t see how it would. I noted that it takes three years to train a nurse and that the government’s apparent short-term policy fix, the creation of nursing associates, cannot be rolled out overnight.

However, to return to my earlier point, what struck me most was being asked whether the staffing problem had been a “ticking time bomb” – and why were we only just hearing about it now?

I was a little surprised and said I thought that frontline staff would argue strongly that it had been a significant problem for some time (as reported again and again by Nursing Times).

It is, of course, good news that the BBC has highlighted the issue, especially at a time when it feels like those tasked with making the NHS books balance – or at least making the deficit a little smaller – are starting to push even harder on staffing.

That the problem of NHS nurse staffing shortages is being discussed across the country today and presented to the wider public must be welcomed, even if the BBC has come late to the party so-to-speak. If the corporation says there is a nurse shortage, then there must be one – it’s official.

And I will certainly watch the Inside Out documentary this evening out of professional interest, but also with a feeling that I have already heard the story inside and out.

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