Nursing is facing many challenges as evidenced by the RCN Congress in Bournemouth last week.
Ministers are attacking nurses’ pay and the right to take industrial action. The government and NHS England suddenly seem to be hell-bent on making the workforce crisis worse, with NHS England taking over the safe staffing work undertaken by NICE, seemingly with no additional resource to do it. The RCN has also claimed the government will remove any non-European nurses who don’t earn an annual salary over £35,000 after five years, all while ministers are clamping down on the use of agency staff.
In fact, staffing any kind of ward or unit must feel like a game of musical chairs right now with the government removing a chair every time senior nurses think they can cope.
It’s ludicrous to think they can.
The coalition government said midway through the last term they would learn lessons and things would improve. Now, having secured another term in office, healthcare seems less important to the Conservatives. Once again, no minister was there to address the UK’s largest nursing conference. Nurses - once so important to ministers while they were visiting hospitals in April and May to secure votes - now seem to count for nothing.
And as long as the government continues to cling to its mantra that we do have enough nurses to provide safe care, and that we are training enough to provide it in the future, they are potentially edging trusts ever closer to a care scandal.
Every day and night there are nurses in hospitals around the UK concerned they are going to work on wards that are dangerously understaffed. There also community nurses under so much pressure that they cannot provide safe care. And when the government makes a policy decision that affects nurses’ abilities to work a shift in this country or not to increase training places enough, they are making a decision to endanger all of us as patients and service users.
Those nurses at RCN Congress, undoubtedly the nurses more likely to speak out and vote in ballots, have all had enough.
As former RCN president Andrea Spyropoulos said at the conference lectern last week: “They’ve come for your pensions, they’ve come for your pay - when are you going to stop them? When they come for your kids?”
She’s ready for a fight. The question is - is the rest of the profession.
Jenni Middleton, editor
Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed