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Health select committee: Call for CNO to lead improvements on safe nurse working conditions

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The chief nursing officer for England should take a lead in setting out how nurses are able to work in “safe and acceptable” working conditions, a group of MPs has said in response to concerns about staff wellbeing.

As part of the Commons’ health select committee’s investigation into the nursing workforce, the MPs were told by nurses that they often arrived early for shifts and finished late, and were not able to take breaks because there were too few staff on duty.

“Nurses also told us that they lack even basic facilities on the wards where they work to prepare food and drink for themselves,” said the MPs in a report published today and titled The nursing workforce.

At organisations where there were wellbeing initiatives in place, nurses struggled to find the time to attend them, stated the report, which was compiled with the help of Nursing Times.

The committee said it was “concerned to hear that some nurses lack basic facilities during their breaks or even the time to take them and felt that they were not allowed to sit down and spend time talking to patients over a cup of tea”.

“We believe there are times when this may enhance care and were reassured to learn from the chief nurse that there is no prohibition on this happening,” they added.

Among its 17 recommendations, the committee called for the CNO to ensure nurses are working in “safe and acceptable” working conditions. It said there must be more of a focus on staff wellbeing across all areas, “driven forward as a national policy priority”.

The MPs called for the CNO to write to all directors of nursing, including in social care providers, asking them to confirm whether nurses were able to complete handovers without routinely staying late, and whether they have time to take their breaks.

“Some nurses felt that they were not allowed to sit down and spend time talking to patients over a cup of tea”

Health select committee report

In addition, the CNO should set up a nursing wellbeing reference group to oversee a programme of work to monitor and help to advise on improving nurses’ working conditions, said the MPs.

Overall, the report warned that efforts must be made to expand the nursing workforce “at scale and pace”. “Without that action, many nurses will continue to experience unacceptable pressure, and will continue to leave the nursing profession,” it warned.

The report, which covers a range of issues affecting the nursing workforce was compiled with the help of the Nursing Times. The MPs held two focus groups where they met with frontline nurses from across the country, from a wide range of specialities and at different stages of their careers.

The chair of the committee, Sarah Wollaston, visited our Team Leaders’ Conference in Birmingham in November and found out what life was like for sisters and other managers who are charged with trying to fill their rosters.

She and her team also visited a group of nurses in London, with representatives present from hospitals and the community working in a range of specialties, including theatre and mental health. The evidence heard from nurses at these events is recorded in the report’s two annexes:

  • 5 Comments

Readers' comments (5)

  • She shouldn't have to be told to support her hardworking nurses.

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  • Does no one remember that we are legally required to take our break? Who should go to jail for this? The nurses, their managers, or the minister for health?

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  • Maybe those being economical with the truth when reporting back to government ??

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  • So the CNO has reassured parliamentarians that there is no prohibition to a nurse talking to a patient over a cup of tea. Really? REALLY?? Try doing it and see where it gets you. No drinking on the unit - health and safety/infection control. If a nurse doesn't have the time to have a break, how on earth does the CNO think he/she has time to sit down with a cup of tea an chat with a patient? That comment screams 'out of touch'. Appalling that MP's have to remind the CNO where her duty lies. It should be in her contract that she goes to a ward or department once a month, rolls her sleeves up and works on the front line. Only then will she have the remotest idea what working as a nurse these days is like and only then will she be able to speak from a vantage point of realism and honesty.

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  • I agree I also think that all heads of nursing and matrons of every trust in the UK should also roll up their sleevesand, put a apron on and work a shift every month too The ones I know are totally out of touch with how much we have to do. They have also not worked on the wards for years.

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