As we say farewell to 2014, many nurses wish they could wave goodbye to pay restraint too.
This was the year that finally brought long-suffering nurses and midwives out on the picket line after the health secretary rejected the NHS Pay Review Body’s recommendations for a blanket 1% pay rise (see page 6). In October and November, NHS staff staged two four-hour stoppages but so far Jeremy Hunt continues to insist pay restraint will save nurses’ jobs.
I suspect the government hoped the recent scandals surrounding quality of care would make the public less sympathetic. But when the Nursing Times team joined picket lines on both strike days, they heard car horns tooting and shouts of support that prove nurses are still considered with great affection. And rightly so.
What is more likely to upset the public is a lack of nurses to look after them and their loved ones. Our survey in February, marking the anniversary of the publication of the Francis report, followed by another in May with ITV’s Good Morning Britain, revealed that despite the so-called Francis effect, nurses still felt their organisations were understaffed - more than half believed dangerously so.
In the wake of Francis, the focus on staff numbers is power to the elbow of nursing. Staff levels now have to be displayed on the NHS Choices website, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence will continue to publish guidance on safe staffing in a range of health settings. For the first time ever, people are connecting patient safety and nursing numbers.
If it’s accepted that nurse numbers affect safety, why isn’t more being done to train, recruit and retain nurses? Trusts are forced to recruit nurses from overseas to plug gaps left by the government’s inadequate planning (news, page 2). NICE may say that having more than eight patients per nurse on a regular basis during the day is a red-flag event, but without more nurses this will happen often. This problem is not unforeseen: huge numbers of nurses are nearing retirement, so succession planning should be under way.
The highlight of the year for me has been the public recognition that qualified nurses make a difference to the quality of care. The low point is the government still refusing to recognise nurses’ value in their pay packets.
● Our next issue is out on 14 January. Until then, keep abreast of all that is happening in nursing on nursingtimes.net.
Jenni Middleton, editor
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