The chief nursing officer for England has stressed the need to share more positive stories on nursing to help tackle falling rates of applications to university training and to keep more staff in the profession.
In an interview with Nursing Times, Professor Jane Cummings said that, while she acknowledged the challenges facing nurses, there was a danger of “a self-fulfilling prophecy” occurring – and staff leaving – if only the difficulties were spoken about.
“The more we talk about how difficult it is, the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy”
Pay and vacancies were often spoken about “but we don’t talk about some of the really fantastic work or the fact the vast majority of vacancies are filled by people working temporary shifts”, she told Nursing Times.
At the annual CNO summit, which took place last week in Liverpool, Professor Cummings announced that NHS England would be supporting a national nurse recruitment and retention campaign with other NHS organisations, as part of plans to mark the health service’s landmark 70th anniversary this year.
Speaking to Nursing Times at the event on Wednesday, she said the newly-announced 165 nursing and midwifery ambassadors – who are already speaking to children in schools and colleges about their understanding of nursing – would be a key part of the campaign to boost the image of the profession.
The ambassadors will also be speaking with a range of frontline nurses to discuss the diversity of roles on offer and how they would like the profession to be promoted, said Professor Cummings. “That for me is one of the powerful things around nursing and midwifery – there are so many different roles.
“It’s the breadth of the profession and roles that people do that I don’t think we are very good at describing”
“But if you talk about a nurse or midwife, most people think about being in a hospital, although most care is provided in the community,” she said. “It’s the breadth of the profession and breadth of the roles that people do that I don’t think we are very good at describing.”
Nursing Times asked how far the new campaign would address the large number of NHS nurse vacancies – which recent data from NHS Improvement has shown to be over 35,000 in England.
“The trick is, yes, we have got vacancies and we have got gaps. But we’ve also got by far the vast majority of those filled with people doing temporary shifts, from bank or agency, and so for us there is something about what do we need to do to enable some of those temporary staff to become permanent members of staff,” she said.
She highlighted that more people needed to be recruited into the profession and that the government wanted to see a 25% increase in student nurses next year, following its increase in funding for clinical placements.
“There is a real risk we just present the negative and we need a better balance”
Nursing Times asked the CNO what other steps were being taken to tackle the drop in the number of applications to pre-registration nursing courses since the removal of bursaries.
“It is quite likely the bursary has had an initial impact,” she said. “We always thought that would be the case. But what is really important [is], we run the risk of only ever reporting negative stories,” said Professor Cummings.
“I am really clear it is tough and people are working incredibly hard – but the more we talk about how difficult it is, the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and people will believe it is really difficult and they think, ‘I might as well stop then’,” she said.
“But actually, when you start talking to real people who do this job on a day-to-day basis, yes of course they’ll say it’s hard – because it is – but they will also talk about what the benefits are,” she noted.
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“I don’t think we have a balanced view,” she said. “We talk a lot about pay, we talk a lot about the vacancies – and all of those are real things – but we don’t talk about some of the really fantastic work or the fact the vast majority of vacancies are filled by people working temporary shifts.”
“There is a real risk we just present the negative and we need a better balance,” added Professor Cummings.
The CNO told Nursing Times that NHS England would be providing additional funding for the new recruitment and retention campaign, but highlighted that the final amount had not yet been confirmed.
She said the campaign would run until at least the autumn but would ultimately depend on how much extra funding other national bodies were able to provide – though she hoped it would be a “longer-term” programme of work.