It’s all very well the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence making recommendations about staffing levels in acute adult inpatient wards (page 5), but do we really have enough nurses to fulfil the organisation’s vision?
Many hospital nursing directors are struggling to fill their estab- lishment, and are all fishing in an ever-depleting pool of potential staff (page 4). The nursing workforce is ageing and retiring, which means it is losing those with the most skills and experience – and many more may retire earlier than planned if they think it’s too much hassle to go through revalidation from the end of 2015. That would be less of a problem if we were training enough new nurses to replace the ones leaving the profession, but we aren’t.
The news story on Health Education England (page 2) highlights it is nurse training that may suffer as a result of the recent cuts to its budgets. Nothing was wrong with the way nurse education was decided locally – so why must it change? And why must nursing always be the profession to feel the pain?
It feels like if there’s ever a need to slash budgets, nursing is expected to take the hit. But at the same time, the profession is blamed whenever there are care failings. If there are issues that create red flags, these will be highlighted as a nursing staffing issue. And in many trusts nursing will be expected to make the problem disappear. But how do they do that if there are no nurses to recruit?
The NICE guidance at long last gives official endorsement to the evidence that proves the NHS needs more nurses on the wards.
Getting the staffing levels right isn’t the only aspect of providing safe, high-quality care, but it is an important one. Research has demonstrated that nursing numbers have the greatest impact on quality of care and patient mortality. But providing the evidence and being able to do something about it are two different things.
The government likes to tell us there are more clinicians in the NHS than ever before, but as we’ve been reporting for a year or so now, a chronic nursing shortage is looming. The Centre for Workforce Intelligence predicts a shortfall of 47,500 nurses by 2016.
Nursing directors have long known what the guideline will tell them – that they need more staff. But what they don’t know is where to find those staff. Instead of simply telling managers how many nurses they need, the government must invest in education so we have enough home-grown nurses to fully staff wards when the retirements hit.