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CNO: Risk to tackling student downturn from sharing only negative experiences of profession


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”

Jane Cummings

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”

Jane Cummings

“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”

Jane Cummings

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.

NHS England/NHs London

England’s chief nurse to oversee health service in the capital

Jane Cummings

“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.


Readers' comments (13)

  • What is positive about a real terms decrease in our salary over the past few years with the potential for the government to do the same again judging by the recent talks.

    Why should we pretend all in the garden is rosy when it quite obviously is not. If Jane Cummings and her cronies cared about nursing they would be vociferous in condemning the government for the way our once proud profession has been treated.

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  • We all understand where you are coming from but how can you encourage future generations into a career which denies them a family life, prevents them from owning property ,where they accumulate great debts , a job with poor career prospects if you so happen to have a vindictive manager .People don't want to work in fear of losing their lives for the sake of violent patients. We as nurses who are already in practice are well aware that a lot of the issues I have raised can happen anywhere , the judiciary does not support us so why on earth would I encourage anybody that I care for to enter a career where we have no value ,we are abused by all who expect us to give extra time for no extra pay ,work understaffed ,die or become seriously ill before retirement. As to the supper annuation the big boys in the city complained that our pension was too good forgetting that their wages ,pensions + bonouses cannot be compared to ours .we save lives,! In our job we can be held accountable for our actions,if you go to the NMC website ,nurses are being struck off for everything. One should tell all the good things nursing has to offer and not hide all the negative aspects . All who wish to make a career in nursing must be allowed to do so being fully informed before making any commitment.

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  • What on earth is anything other than negative about working all the hours God sends, right round the clock, for vindictive and bullying managers just out to keep their slightly better paid noses clean, for a wage packet that is in many cases impossible to live on, and at the price of wrecking ones social and family life? It may be a good occupation for nuns, but hardly for any halfway intelligent young person with normal ambitions in life--don't be fooled!

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  • Do not go into this job.This is the biggest mistake of my life and I will die in poverty with this job.Despite 22 years of experience and degree I am still a band 5.The culture of discrimination, bullying and harassment is ever so present.I have tried to get a permanent job for 2 years now but because my hair has gone grey, nobody wants to take me on board.These matron with their attitude is too much and they favour only a sector.

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  • Opportunities are only given to a few.When I started my nursing career I used to walk in the ward and greet Good morning.Everybody stares at me as if I am completely alien and never replies back.I stopped that now.This job makes you lose your manners, your identity and personality.I am so happy that there is nobody at all who will follow my steps in this job.The harassment and bullying in nursing is worse than in any other profession.

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  • I agree with the above comments, the good part is seeing people get better; but that is not enough when you have a family, when you have debts and bills have to be paid.

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  • Even if all the negatives in nursing are ignored, and only the positive aspects are emphasised, people entering the job will soon find out what it's like. The sensible ones will leave before it's too late, and get a job where they can have a normal life with a reasonable living standard. Job satisfaction can't buy your kids' food, shoes, clothing etc.

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  • This from a Telegraph article over 4yrs ago

    "The nine highest-paid people at NHS England"

    Joint 7. Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer – £165k-£170k.

    No wonder she doesn't want to upset the apple cart and speak up for the nurses she is supposed to lead, nurses who are actually working rather than doing the rounds at conferences spouting nonsense.

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  • It's about 8k per month net...

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  • After 30 years plus of nursing i could write a few comments based on my experiences of the above. So pleased that my children have not undertaken to train as nurses. The fact that you now pay to have these experiences inflicted on you !!!!

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