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'An expensive mistake to count on free labour'


This is supposed to be the season of goodwill, but there seems to be little goodwill directed at people on the front line of care.

Our annual health check on nurses reveals such a bleak picture (page 2) that Dickens himself could have written the story our figures tell. Over half (54%) of the nurses we surveyed weren’t happy with their work/life balance, and it’s easy to see why - 80% of the 700 nurses surveyed said they regularly worked more than their allotted hours every week.

Almost 60% said their employer did not give staff health and wellbeing a high enough priority. More than half felt compelled to come into work when they were ill, while 40% said colleagues’ shifts were rarely or never covered when they were off sick.

This isn’t affecting just nurses’ morale and wellbeing - it will affect patients who will not be receiving the best care. Mistakes will be made, tragedies may occur - and all because no one is considering the impact of staff wellbeing on patient care.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was asked repeatedly at the chief nursing officer for England’s summit last month about pay. He said ignoring the NHS Pay Review Body’s recommendations was the toughest decision he’d ever made. Then he maintained the NHS could not afford to pay nurses more without cutting nurse jobs.

I disagree with this argument. The NHS is being bankrolled by nurses working longer hours than they are paid for and coming in on their days off and days they should be at home sick.

Mr Hunt and his colleagues love to spout statistics to show how this government has reduced waiting list times and demonstrate the fantastic job its done with the health service. But, without nurses working way more than they should, such figures would not make such pleasant reading, and will not make the cut in Mr Hunt’s and David Cameron’s pre-election speeches next year.

The NHS is haemorrhaging nurses abroad - and Mr Hunt’s actions over pay are helping to escort them out the door. This government claims it wants to keep, protect and nurture the health service - and that should start with its nurses, the most fundamental building block of NHS care.

When will Mr Hunt realise that the one thing he cannot afford to do is lose the goodwill and good health of nurses? He thinks paying nurses more is an expensive decision - but he may find the alternative way more costly.

Jenni Middleton, editor . Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed



Readers' comments (3)

  • Well said. However, a U-turn now by Hunt - he reckons the extra £2bn can be used to employ more nurses. No mention whatsoever of a pay increase, not even an increase to keep up with inflation, let alone one to to cover the losses all nurses have suffered over the past three years. What a Tory b******!!!

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  • I've worked excess hours for the last four years, possibly longer, covering for the inadequate maternity leave replacements, staff retirements and the inexperience of new staff. I come in early and go home late every single day. My patients have received, in the main, good care. Management grumble if audits and paperwork aren't up to scratch, so I stay behind to complete them. I was almost up to disciplinary procedures 18 months ago when they weren't, I was told I was not doing my job properly, so worked even longer hours to make sure that I was.
    I've now been off sick since the beginning of October and have no plans to return until January at the very earliest. I only went off with a cold..but my body has just gone into a complete meltdown. Burnout if you prefer. I hate to think about the stress this is causing my small team as I know they won't be adequately covered whilst I am away. So who will be next? We can't continue to work at this level with no support and no back up.
    My goodwill has gone. When I do return to work, it will be for the hours I am paid for only, with nothing extra. I cannot put myself into this position of poor health ever again. I am sorry for my patients and my staff, but normal service will not be resuming...ever.

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  • I'm approaching similar sentiments as Anonymous | 13-Dec-2014 9:11 am. I've been a registered nurse for over two years now and I'm getting burnt out already. My training was tough and I love what I do, but I find myself always staying behind after my contracted hours either because I have to complete paperwork (if it's not recorded, it's not been done etc) or even getting asked to come in on my days off or study days to work because we're short staffed.

    There is lack of morale amongst my colleagues and there is minimal appreciation (either financially or even verbally) from the upper echelons of management. They're even wanting to reduce or staffing for the morning shift as they believe we can manage with one less care assistant (believe me, we can't).

    It's getting to the point where some of us want to help out here and there when we're short-staffed etc, but our generosity is waning. Mr Hunt et al are treading on a very dangerous line and will be completely at fault as our NHS crumbles.

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