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Government response to MPs’ nursing workforce inquiry described as 'missed opportunity'

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Ministers have this week set out how they intend to respond to a range of challenges facing the nursing workforce which were identified earlier this year by MPs.

But some nursing leaders have expressed their dismay at the government’s response to the major investigation into the nursing workforce crisis, saying it offers “little in the way of solutions”.

As reported by Nursing Times, earlier this year MPs on the House of Commons health and social care select committee called for greater efforts to expand the nursing workforce and retain existing staff.

In its report, published in January, the commitee also highlighted the need to ensure nurses could access high quality continuing professional development (CPD) and said more effort must be made to improve nurses’ working conditions.

It followed a wide-ranging inquiry by the influential group of cross-party MPs, which heard from nurses on the frontline and was supported by Nursing Times.

Six months later and the government has now published its official response, but nursing bodies such as the Royal College of Nursing described it as a “missed opportunity” to tackle some of the core issues at the heart of staffing shortages.

While the government acknowledged the key concerns raised by the inquiry and said it recognised the need for more nurses, the response mainly documents work already under way or in the pipeline.

Developments such as the new pay deal for NHS staff and recent measures to make it easier to recruit from abroad will help ease workforce pressures, said the document, which also outlines steps being taken to improve workforce planning and data.

However, it emphasises the fact the government has no plans to reconsider its decision to abolish the bursary for nursing students, saying it was “clear that the bursary system was not working for patients, for students or for the universities that train them”.

This is despite the fact the latest UCAS figures show applications to nursing courses have dropped by around a third in the two years since the bursary was scrapped.

The select committee had called on the government to closely monitor the impact of withdrawing the bursary and set out what it would do if applications – especially those from mature students and to courses in much-needed specialties – continued to fall.

In response, the government said it was working with health and education bodies to monitor the impact of the move to student loans, including the effect on different student groups and specialties and would publish an update later this year.

It also confirmed it was working on the detail of its plan to offer a “golden hello” to postgraduates who go on to work in specific fields of nursing, including mental health, learning disability and district nursing.

This £9.1m incentive scheme, announced in May, will see £10,000 offered to postgraduates who complete courses starting in September.

The Department of Health and Social Care was looking at “whether it is in the best interests of the NHS to split out the numbers eligible for a payment determined by branch of nursing”, said the document.

One of the key recommendations of the select committee, which called for a much greater focus on staff wellbeing overall, was the need to improve working conditions for nurses. This included ensuring they could safely handover patients without routinely staying late and were able to take breaks.

NHS England/NHs London

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

Jane Cummings

In its response, the government did not set out any specific measures to address these issues. However, it did accept that, as a first step, the chief nursing officer for England, Jane Cummings, should write to all directors of nursing, including those working in social care, to get them to confirm these basic requirements were being met.

The response also says the CNO will be establishing a “nursing reference group” to contribute to the work of the advisory board for the NHS’s Healthy Workplace programme, which is chaired by Professor Dame Carol Black.

A further key recommendation from the committee was the need to reverse funding cuts to nurses’ CPD budgets, stressing the key role post-registration training played in the retention of staff.

It said funding allocated to trusts should be specifically ring-fenced for CPD for nurses and that specific funding should be made available to support CPD for nurses working in the community.

Meanwhile, it was important CPD reflected skill shortages and patient needs with a “clear audit trail” to ensure “funding reaches its intended destination”.

The committee said it would be reviewing progress on its recommendations in a year’s time and expected Health Education England “to demonstrate clear action on each point”.

“This is a missed opportunity to reverse the decline in nursing workforce numbers, training support and morale”

Janet Davies

In its response, the government agreed training was “a very important issue” but said it would provide more detail on options for CPD at a later date.

“CPD is a complex issues with many interdependencies therefore, the department is continuing to consider the health and social care select committee’s recommendations in further detail and will set out potential options as soon as possible,” said the document.

Overall, Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said the government’s response was hugely disappointing.

“The government took six months to mull over the nursing workforce crisis, yet today have offered very little in the way of solutions,” she said.

Janet davies

Janet davies

Janet Davies

“Professional nurses need the resources and support to do their jobs, not empty top-down initiatives,” she said. “This is a missed opportunity to reverse the decline in nursing workforce numbers, training support and morale.”

In particular, she said the government had “offered no clear solutions to boost student numbers”, despite acknowledging the steep decline in applications after the nursing bursary was scrapped.

“Nor have ministers offered to reverse swingeing cuts to nurse training, a major factor in retaining nurses who want to expand their skills and do the best for their patients,” she said.

“And with an ageing population, we need a joined-up workforce plan based on need. Failure to address these problems will have lasting consequences for patients,” she added.

Dave Munday, lead professional officer for mental health at Unite, said: “Our mental health nurse members’ concerns will intensify by the government’s response to the Health and Social Care Select Committee.

“It fails to respond to the specific concerns raised by the committee, those raised by Unite/Mental Health Nurses Association and those raised in a number of reports which highlight the significant cut to mental health nurse numbers, which NHS Digital shows is 4,577 (11.3%) cut between May 2010 and March 2018.

“What little hope is provided by announcements of promised improvements is quickly thwarted when the surface is scratched, and questions are asked,” he added.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • If govt don't care, why tf should anyone else?

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  • None of these reports ever amount to anything. It's all waffle. They just want to make it look like they're doing something. But have no will, motivation or interest in altering the status quo.

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