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‘Rest of the world’ catches up with nurse shortages story


Today was very much an NHS themed day for the BBC. The lead story of the day on breakfast bulletins was an investigation revealing that the health service had thousands of vacancies for nurses and doctors.

The supporting cast was provided by a piece on the financial pressures faced by community pharmacist and the good news that Pauline Cafferkey had been discharged from the Royal Free, after once again recovering from the complications of ebola.

“I thought, hang-on, surely everyone knows there is a nurse shortage”

It was the story on NHS vacancies though that was given the big push, with the entire BBC network revealing that the health service was short of nurses and doctors across each region via TV, radio and online coverage, all in their different way.

I thought, hang-on, surely everyone knows there is a nurse shortage. Is this really “news”, I asked the television? After all, we have been regularly reporting on this for several years now.

Nursing Times, along with many other publications across the health sector, have been highlighting it in investigations and surveys – as demonstrated by the media coverage we had for our last two annual surveys across the media. Unions, think-tanks and political parties have also been making the point at national media level on weekly basis.

We can even break it down a bit. There is the shortage of district and community nurses, the shortage of practice and primary care nurses, the shortage of mental health nurses, the shortage of school nurses, oh and the shortage of midwives and neonatal nurses – apologies if I’ve missed your particular setting off the list.

To be fair to the Beeb, they had some decent new figures to back up their revelation. Their data, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, showed that on 1 December 2015, the NHS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had more than 23,443 nursing vacancies – which it noted was equivalent to 9% of the workforce (Scotland was missed out for some reason).

The findings are set to form the centre point of tonight’s edition of the Inside Out programme, which will be aired on BBC One at 7:30pm.

“If the corporation says there is a nurse shortage, then there must be one – it’s official”

For my part, I started the day on BBC Radio Cumbria talking about the issue and giving some national context and finished the day doing the same on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire.

Among other points, I was asked about the significance of the shortage, the pressure of NHS finances, competition for staff between trusts, and the efforts and challenges of recruiting overseas nurses.

I was also asked whether I thought the situation would get better any time soon, to which I had to admit that I couldn’t see how it would. I noted that it takes three years to train a nurse and that the government’s apparent short-term policy fix, the creation of nursing associates, cannot be rolled out overnight.

However, to return to my earlier point, what struck me most was being asked whether the staffing problem had been a “ticking time bomb” – and why were we only just hearing about it now?

I was a little surprised and said I thought that frontline staff would argue strongly that it had been a significant problem for some time (as reported again and again by Nursing Times).

It is, of course, good news that the BBC has highlighted the issue, especially at a time when it feels like those tasked with making the NHS books balance – or at least making the deficit a little smaller – are starting to push even harder on staffing.

That the problem of NHS nurse staffing shortages is being discussed across the country today and presented to the wider public must be welcomed, even if the BBC has come late to the party so-to-speak. If the corporation says there is a nurse shortage, then there must be one – it’s official.

And I will certainly watch the Inside Out documentary this evening out of professional interest, but also with a feeling that I have already heard the story inside and out.



Readers' comments (7)

  • It seems the BBC is doing more than the NMC and RCN put together.
    We should be thankful for this type of coverage.

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  • Yet there are no jobs going in the trust I just trained with. Mainly due to large recruitment of international nurse.

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  • One other barrier is the archaic way management view nurses. We need to give inexperienced nurses a chance to grow and develop. It can be risky and rewarding if risks are supported with ,coaching and mentoring and management support.
    sadly money also enters the equation. nurses need to live and support families and their life style and in todays economy we sadly have to take this into consideration rather than be a marry to vocation

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  • Staff shortage is a problem at the hospital I work in, but does not show as such, as the management has put on a basic staff target which is almost always met. Guess what the target is under the amount that should be on.
    We will be having an inspection this month which we knew about more than 6 months ago.
    For this inspection we had lots of information on what to speak about should we be asked to speak to the inspectors. We were informed that if we have any concerns to speak to the ward manager first. Most people have spoken in meetings or by letters about insufficient staff on the floor, we have asked to at least put on 1 more HCA. Guess what we do have one more HCA this week on the floor, but was told that has to be reviewed in the new financial year (which is April after the inspectors have gone). The last time the inspectors were at the hospital quite a few staff talked to them about the staffing levels. I remember after the inspection, the ward sister called me at home to asked me what I had told the inspector when I spoke to him. This time we were warned in a nice way and should we choose to ignore that warning it will be at our peril. So most of us will be smiling politely and saying we love it here. Maybe, this is what the inspectors want, sometimes I wonder if they really want the truth, because with undercover inspections more truths can be known without putting the staff in a position where its either saying what they really want to say and causing problems for themselves or just smiling and saying its fine here.
    We also got new ward key rings which has: Go (name of ward) as if we are cheering on a baseball team.

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  • vacancies- really. never notice on nhs jobs.
    if trust want to keep they need to start appreciating those of us that stay and keep the care going and top our best without the staffing.
    Bonus would be nice. just like the city guys get

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  • Out of date!

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  • Its your perception! Nurses are well paid, job for life, 'recession proof' and safety of patients is not a problem!!
    Where I work we have badges saying ''my name is...'' like Asda, musicains playing folk music ''to cheer up'' patients, visitors and staff- we have posters and singing plasma screen TV's telling us to remember to wash our hands, remember A&E is for emergencies only and white boards plus the above plasma TVs sitting idle (£7k each and we have them in every clinic and ward) because IT cant have the sofetware to put them in action... (its costly apparently) and some numpty is paid a Band 6/7 or 8 to think through crap like this!

    The NHs is full of HR/pa's and top heavy managers who do nothing but think up schemes to paste a veneer on the hospital. Its now a busioness with the veneer of a hospital, its seen as an area to make money. Meanwhile staff on the clinical floor and those who support us have rubbish pay, punitive conditions, 12 hour shifts and no paid break (can't leave the hospital at night in case of fire or emergency) and no appreciation for who we are and what we do.
    I am looking into leaving. I wish Id never become an RN. it was a silly career move. Making money is seen as virtuous not caring for sick people.

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