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'Deadly' blend of staffing and workforce problems faces nursing, warns RCN chief exec


Nursing is facing a “deadly combination” of too few people being trained, experienced staff leaving the health service and a “criminal” lack of workforce planning, the head of the UK’s major nursing union has said.

Speaking at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress in Liverpool today, its chief executive and general secretary warned that many trust chief nurses had told the union that financial pressures meant they were unable to make the best decisions for patients.

“How can it be, five years after the Francis’ report that we’re still trying to make sure we have the right numbers of nurses?”

Janet Davies

Janet Davies referrenced a report published by the RCN today, which revealed 40,000 nurse posts in England alone were now vacant – almost double the figure in 2013.

The college has now called for nurse staffing laws to be brought in across the UK, the first time it has done so.

She compared the current problems – in which decisions over staffing are being made based on the money available – to those that led to the care failings scandal at the former Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

“Cutting posts to make ends meet is exactly the approach that caused the problems at Mid Staffordshire,” she told the conference.

“How can it be, that five years after Robert Francis’ report into the deaths at Mid Staffs, we’re still trying to make sure that we have the right numbers of nurses?,” she asked.

In addition, the government’s decision to remove bursaries for student nurses in England from this autumn was “dangerous”, because there was now no guarantee how many people would train, she said.

“[All] the signs [are showing] that that it’ll be mental health and learning disability nursing that suffer most”

Janet Davies

Ms Davies referred to the “huge” reduction in course applications that were revealed in UCAS figures earlier this year, with “all the signs [showing] that it’ll be mental health and learning disability nursing that suffer most”, she said.

Meanwhile, in Scotland the number of nurse training places was being held down by the government to keep costs under control, she claimed.

In Wales, the RCN needed to make sure plans being drawn up by new workforce body Health Education Wales were based on the number of nurses required, she added.

The union leader also referred more widely to significant cuts to mental health nursing posts, and the reduced number of health visitor and school nurse jobs, following cuts to council public health budgets.

She urged local and national government to take immediate action to prevent public health “disasters” in the future. The extent of the problems meant safe staffing laws across the UK were now required, she later said.

“We believe the only way to protect our patients and our profession is to get safe staffing enshrined in law”

Janet Davies

“We’ve now reached the point where we believe the only way to protect our patients and our profession is to get safe staffing enshrined in law,” she told delegates. She called on nurses to complete the RCN’s staffing levels survey being launched today.

Ms Davies also said the results of the union’s consultation of its members about whether they would be prepared to take strike action over the government’s 1% annual pay rise cap – which revealed 78% were in favour – sent a powerful message to the government.

However, she acknowledged that more people would need to vote if a formal ballot were to take place in the future because new laws – under the Trade Union Act, which came into force in March – require a 50% turnout to take strike action.

“So it’s important that every one of you – all of you here today – uses our ’summer of discontent’ to spread the word and get your friends, your colleagues, everyone involved. But whatever we do, our bottom line is that our patients will never suffer because of us,” she said.

Royal College of Nursing

RCN Congress 2017

Janet Davies giving her keynote speech at RCN Congress 2017


Readers' comments (3)

  • The hardworking nurses will never be rewarded in the NHS. They will always be left behind and will NEVER be promoted because they are good and efficient floor workers and they deliver high standard care to the patients. Management do their best to keep them at the bottom so that they do not lose them on the floor. However, this demoralising situation promote more people to leave the profession. I know a girl who was my student, 6 months after her qualification, she became a band 6 and then a year later became a band 7. Then slowly and surely she was shadowing the matron and for the past 2 years she became the Matron. When I go to interviews, they talk about communication and interpersonal skills, but this girl like many managers, it is clear that the skills is ignoring the floor staff, make them work like slaves, does not even acknowledge their presence. She is not in charge of the Nurses Retention Programme. How convenient is that. Racism is much present in the NHS. Discrimination, Diversity and Equality is only policies on the intranet and mandatory training on induction. They are not applied in practice. Some of those floor nurses are made to work so hard, that they they lose their confidence and think that they cannot lead a team. While some nurses are given so much support others are left behind. Weaknesses are not taken into account when appraisals are carried out. There is discrimination and segregation. Nursing is the only profession where qualifications are not taken into consideration. The way to crop up the ladder is how to know how to gossip to the manager, how to sit down at her desk and talk about Friday night outings and how to bully others around and be lazy. In this way, they feel that you have these nurses have the requirements to become team leaders because they can talk. When problems arise on the floor, they tell the Band 5, please attend to the patient .In one interview, a Manager told me your CPD is only for the NMC. So why bother putting CPD in the advert? NHS will always be short of nurses, because the ones who not foreigners will never be on the floor, they will be mangers so by the time you have the new recruits from abroad, there will be shortage.

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  • I agree with this comment because I have witness this at my workplace when our deputy manager was applying for the position as a manager but the Matron chosed the one who was qualified for more than five years than the one who is more than 10 years. It was very disappointing to see this kind of practice in NHS because it's just showing the future leaders of NHS would be inexperience. As a result, more experience nurses will be discouraged and potentially quit their profession because of not acknowledging their commitment, loyalty, experience and knowledge.

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  • The nursing profession (some profession!) is being ground into the dust. How it attracts anyone now is perplexing to me. I advise anyone who asks to keep out of it, as the job is becoming more stressful and worse paid. There are still days when one feels some job satisfaction, but that won't pay your mortgage?rent or provide for families' material needs.

    Incidentally, Janet Davies has not "referrenced" a report; reference is not a verb (also note the incorrect use of double r). The correct word is referred, and should be part of the phrase "referred to." A journalist should have a better command of the English language.

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