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
firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed