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Round-up of last month’s main workforce and policy news affecting UK nurses

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Miss any of the news affecting the profession during June and early July 2017? Catch up with our summary of the main nursing headlines.


Pay cap remains in place as Labour loses Commons vote

nurse pay protest london

nurse pay protest london

MPs voted not to remove the cap on public sector pay, which limits annual increases for nurses and other NHS staff to 1%, after Labour put forward an amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling for it to be lifted.

Following a House of Commons debate on the speech, which lays out the government’s priorities, an end to the cap was rejected by MPs by 323 votes to 309, providing a government majority of 14.

MPs warned the goodwill of nurses and other public sector workers could soon run out, and those from across different parties spoke out about reviewing the cap.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott highlighted the role of public sector workers in responding to recent terrorist attacks in the UK and the Grenfell Tower fire – including the many NHS workers “who came in off shift to save lives”.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the government would not make a decision on pay until a recommendation had been made by the NHS pay review body, which assesses salaries every year.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) described the result of the vote as a “bitter disappointment” for nurses and other public sector staff.

RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies, said the union would continue to build cross-party support over the summer.

In June, the RCN launched its “summer of protest” over pay, in 30 locations across the UK and warned that if the government failed to remove the cap this summer, it would hold a strike ballot.

Earlier, Mr Hunt told NHS Confederation’s annual conference that he had “a great deal of sympathy” for the arguments nurses had made. He said he would relay pay concerns to the chancellor. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the government has committed to lifting the public sector pay cap.


Community trusts miss workforce targets

02 e24008

02 e24008

Nearly a third of NHS trusts running community hospitals have not met their targets for nurse staffing levels on wards for the past two years, according to latest workforce data. NHS Improvement’s data shows 22 out of 69 trusts have at least one community hospital ward that did not meet their own planned level of nurses during the day throughout the period from April 2015 to March 2017. The data, published on 6 June, is submitted monthly to NHS Improvement and shows the percentage of nurses working on community inpatient wards compared with the planned level.


New approach to care after unsafe staffing

Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Nurse shortage sparks ‘new approach’ to dementia care

Magnolia Ward

A trust is introducing a “new approach” to dementia assessment and treatment for patients in response to continued difficulties in recruiting registered mental health nurses. The move by Somerset Partnership Foundation Trust follows ongoing nurse shortages on its Magnolia Ward in Yeovil, which will see the seven-bed dementia assessment unit close on a temporary basis from this month. As a result, the trust said it would open additional dementia beds in Taunton. Extra dementia nursing home beds will also be commissioned in the South Somerset area, along with a new seven-day community outreach service.


12-hour shifts linked to lower quality care

Staff working at night may experience sleep disturbances after their shift

Staff working at night may experience sleep disturbances after their shift

Nurses report significantly lower quality of care if they work a 12-hour shift compared to a stint of eight hours or less, according to analysis that also found longer shifts were linked with higher job dissatisfaction. Researchers, from the University of Southampton and King’s College London, found nurses were more likely to leave a larger amount of care uncompleted if they worked for 12 or more hours. The findings come from analysis of data from 31 trusts included in the major RN4Cast study.


NMC considers changes to education



The Nursing and Midwifery Council has two consultation exercises underway on a radical overhaul of pre-registration training. In May, the regulator published proposals including more drug prescribing theory being taught at an undergraduate level and requiring all students to be competent in an extensive list of technical skills. It has now launched one consultation on education training standards, which will run until 12 September, and a second, separate consultation on new standards for medicines management and prescribing that will run until 14 September.


All-time high of nursing vacancies in Scotland



Nursing and midwifery vacancies in the NHS in Scotland have risen to the highest ever recorded level, with 2,818 posts now empty. This figure, which includes support workers and registered staff, is equal to 4.5% of the nursing and midwifery workforce. But certain specialties are seeing higher vacancy rates – such as health visiting, which has more than 7% of jobs empty – according to data from the NHS Information Services Division. Meanwhile, spending on agency and bank nurses and midwives in Scotland has increased by just over 5% to £166.5m this year.


Guy’s nurse named as terror attack victim

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

Updated: Tributes pour in for nurse killed in terror attack

Kirsty Boden

Tributes poured in for Kirsty Boden, an Australian nurse named as one of the victims of the terror attack in London on 3 June. Ms Boden, 28, worked as a staff nurse in theatres recovery at Guy’s Hospital. She died “as she ran towards danger” to help the injured on London Bridge.


HEE targets retention of existing nurses



NHS managers have been urged to focus on strategies to hold onto nursing staff by the head of a government arm’s length-body. During a speech at the NHS Confederation’s annual conference in Liverpool last month, the chief executive of Health Education England warned that staff retention was the “biggest single challenge” over the next few years in dealing with the workforce shortage. Professor Ian Cumming said HEE was expecting around 16,000 nurse posts to be empty in 2020-21, unless trusts helped to reduce the annual turnover of nurses, which he said was currently an average of 9.5% – though in some organisations it was as high as 35%.


CBEs for community nurse leader and CNO



The head of the community nursing charity the Queen’s Nursing Institute has been recognised in the 2017 Queen’s birthday honours list, along with the chief nursing officer for Wales. Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the QNI, and Welsh CNO Dr Jean White have both been made Commanders of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). They are among 21 nurses mentioned in this year’s birthday honours list, which was published on 16 June.


Disparity for mental health education

hospital bed

hospital bed

New pre-registration training standards will not provide nurses with the equal grounding in physical and mental healthcare skills they require, academics have said amid claims by the regulator that its plans have “cracked” the challenge. The new standards of proficiency require all nurses – regardless of their specialist field of practice, in either adult, children’s, mental health or learning disability nursing – to be competent in a listed range of technical and communication skills. However, the chair of a group of Mental Health Academics UK said the skills are still too focused on physical healthcare and those required for working in hospitals.


Child nursing needs should be recognised

Child in hospital

Child in hospital - mental health

Academics have called for the “increasingly complex nature” of children’s nursing and the “chronic” shortage of staff working in the field to be recognised in light of major changes to pre-registration education. The Children and Young People’s Nurse Academics UK group noted that children with disabilities or life-limiting conditions are often living longer, young people are at increasing risk of mental health problems, and the UK is falling behind many western European countries on infant mortality rates. For this reason, pre-registration training must focus on field-specific tuition, said the group – despite suggestions generic courses were more flexible and cheaper.


Residential care system is failing elderly and hard-pressed staff

Elderly man

Elderly man

Elderly man

Care home residents are being left in re-used continence pads, denied trips to the toilet and kept indoors for days on end due to severe staff shortages, according to a survey by Unison. It found 83% of care workers said they were so rushed they were compromising the dignity and wellbeing of residents, despite 80% saying they regularly worked through their breaks. The findings are based on survey responses from more than 1,000 care staff working in private and local authority care homes.


Drive for more health visitors behind target


Scottish politicians compete for votes with nursing pledges

Government plans to increase the number of health visitors in the NHS in Scotland by around 50% in the space of four years are unlikely to succeed unless more is done to offset staff leaving or retiring from the profession, Nursing Times has been warned. The Scottish government pledged in 2014 that 500 extra health visitor jobs would be created by the end of 2017-18. But latest figures suggest the workforce will need to be boosted by at least 200 additional staff in just one year to meet the target.


Theatre nurse wins parliamentary seat in West Midlands

Labour Party

Theatre nurse wins parliamentary seat in West Midlands

Eleanor Smith

A theatre nurse and union activist won a marginal seat in the West Midlands at last month’s general election. As a result of her win, Eleanor Smith has become the new Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West. She held onto the seat for Labour with 20,899 votes, a majority of 2,185. Ms Smith, who works at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Foundation Trust, was president of the union Unison from June 2011 to June 2012 – the first black woman to hold the post.


Launch of Mary Seacole Trust

Mary Seacole Trust

Launch of Mary Seacole Trust

The Mary Seacole Trust is launched in London to promote the legacy and values of Victorian nurse Mary Seacole a year after her statue – the first of a named black woman in the UK – was unveiled at St Thomas’ Hospital. Trevor Sterling, chair of the charity, is pictured above (centre) with trustees.






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