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Safe staffing 'must be priority' in election, says RCN

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Safe staffing levels, the protection of specialist nursing posts and an end to “downbanding” are among the key priorities political parties should be addressing ahead of the UK’s general election, the Royal College of Nursing has said.

In a manifesto published by the RCN on Wednesday, the college highlights the pressures on the nursing profession and calls for a range of measures to protect and support the workforce to deliver care.

“Good patient care depends on having a well-staffed, highly qualified workforce”

RCN election manifesto

These measures include “guaranteed safe and effective staffing levels in all health and care settings across the UK”.

The RCN manifesto also calls for regulation of all healthcare support workers and “an end to the practice of downbanding of registered nurses and substitution with less qualified staff”.

It says downbanding and substitution are being used as a way of controlling costs and “it is now commonplace for unregistered staff to undertake care normally provided by registered nurses”.

“Good patient care depends on having a well-staffed, highly qualified workforce,” states the document, called Nursing Counts.

“Without experienced staff who provide complex care, the risk to outcomes is too great,” it adds.

”Demand for these specialist nurses is unprecedented and in some areas of the UK there are major shortages”

RCN election manifesto

It says specialist nursing roles should be protected and cutting such posts is a false economy.

“Demand for these specialist nurses is unprecedented and in some areas of the UK there are major shortages, compromising the care people desperately need.

“This includes health visitors and school nurses, neo-natal nurses, district nurses and nurses working in mental health, cancer and learning disability,” it states.

Overall the manifesto highlights the need for more investment in health and social care services and a greater focus on quality when planning and designing these services.

“The party leaders must either commit the hard cash and numbers of staff the NHS needs or be honest with patients about what can be done”

Janet Davies

Crucially, it also calls for better pay for nurses and midwives – a “critical factor” in the recruitment and retention of nursing and midwifery staff.

“Our members are exhausted and morale is low with nursing staff under enormous strain, being asked to do more for less,” says the document.

“More nursing staff than ever before are leaving the profession, piling the pressure on people who are already overstretched,” it adds.

RCN chief executive Janet Davies called on the government in power after the election to scrap the current pay cap for NHS workers, which restricts annual rises to an average of 1%, and “fill the tens of thousands of vacant jobs”.

“The party leaders must put patients before politics this election by either committing the hard cash and numbers of staff the NHS needs or being honest with patients about what can be done,” she said.

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