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Don’t believe the hype: numbers do matter to care

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No one can say that 2015 was a smooth and peaceful journey for nurses and midwives, or me personally for that matter.

Gail Adams

Gail Adams

Gail Adams

We entered 2015 with a continuation of the winter crisis and missed targets, then we moved into spring with an acute shortage in nurses, made worse as the Home Office had refused to place nursing on the occupational shortage list.

Summer began with scrapping the NICE safe staffing advice – and apparently it’s now only guidance anyway.

Into Autumn with Monitor and the Trust Development Authority introducing bank and agency caps. How do some agencies react? They move the pressure onto nurses, expecting each of them to become individual independent companies, making their own tax returns.

It’s difficult to see this move as anything other than profit driven on their part.

”I have witnessed and experienced great care being delivered in difficult circumstances”

Full circle back to winter pressures and George Osborne’s announcement to scrap the NHS Bursary scheme for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.

Over the course of the last year, I have witnessed and experienced great care being delivered in difficult circumstances. I experienced firsthand the impact of nurses struggling to look after eight patients and I can tell you categorically that numbers do matter – they make the difference between nurses being able to deliver care and ration it, making those tough decisions on which parts of someone’s care has to be left undone.

I constantly see nurses going the extra mile for those in their care, at their own expense, working through their breaks, staying well over their finish time and coming in on days off to cover shifts.

“Staff must be paid a fair rate for the job they do”

I have heard people describe nursing as a vocation. Well it’s not, nursing and midwifery is a profession and as such it must be recognised and staff must be paid a fair rate for the job they do. The irony is that retaining nurses isn’t just about pay – it’s about showing them the same level of respect and courtesy that you expect them to demonstrate to patients and this just is not happening.

To round off the not-so perfect year, we are waiting the announcement of an associate nurse role (not a nurse) but Government want them to care for patients, meet their needs, administer their medication, work all shifts but pay them less.

Apparently this is the solution to the nursing shortage – cheap labour!

I want healthcare and assistant practitioners to have the best career they can, for it to be both easier to access their nurse training, or remain in their current role where they wish to but I don’t want to see them undervalued.

Enrolled nurses faced systematic discrimination during the 1970s right up until almost the development of the conversion course. I do not believe that the solution to our current nursing shortage is to turn the clock back 30 years and for once I wish policymakers would take off their rose-coloured glasses and face the reality.

”Government are currently using smoke and mirrors to spin this as a great idea”

This, coupled with the proposal to scrap the NHS Bursary, will lead to a nurse graduating in 2020 on a starting salary of £22,799 but with a minimum level of debt (unless their parents are millionaires) of £51,600.

It’s debt that will never be paid off and Government are currently using smoke and mirrors to spin this as a great idea that will enable an additional 10,000 students to enter pre-registration programmes. They seem to have no concept of the impact this could have on the quality of clinical placements or that almost extinct being – the mentor!

”Nurses and nursing should not take the thin edge of the wedge for the service crisis”

So, for me, 2015 could go down as the year we missed the opportunity to place nursing and midwifery centrally as an economic saving to the service but not by looking at how we can get more cheaply but by developing a clear post-registration career pathway and paying for it. This would have stemmed the current haemorrhaging of nurses.

Nurses and nursing should not take the thin edge of the wedge for the service crisis. We are its future and it’s about time we were recognised as the solution not the problem.

”And as a patient, I am truly grateful to you all”

I believe nursing is an amazing profession, we are at people’s sides during the best and the worst of times of their lives. None of us came into the profession expecting, like Del Boy, to be millionaires – but we have every right to demand that we are valued, respected and paid for the tough job we do day in and day out. I could not be more proud of the job you each do, as the head of nursing for Unison.

And as a patient, I am truly grateful to you all. While I cannot be certain of the future I can be confident on one thing – I won’t duck asking the difficult questions.

 

Gail Adams is head of nursing at Unison

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