The NHS in England’s new five-year plan makes some recommendations that will be music to the ears of nurses and midwives - particularly those working in the community and in public health.
The strategy seems to acknowledge the leadership potential of nursing and could signal a move away from the still long-held view of many in the health professions - and indeed the public - that nurses are merely the handmaidens of doctors.
So far, so good. Integrating services in the community outside of hospitals is the most sensible thing to do; this will enable nurses working in community and primary care settings to provide high-quality holistic treatment and care. Giving the nurse more authority to coordinate health and social care is also a good decision, ensuring an appropriate professional has a 360-degree view of the care being provided and can advocate for the patient. But like so many things in the NHS, the question is: how will it work in practice? Particularly if there aren’t enough nurses to take on these roles.
The nursing workforce faces a huge shortage crisis. As we’ve previously reported, the Centre for Workforce Intelligence predicts the NHS is likely to have 47,500 fewer nurses than it needs by 2016.
Even the new head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, acknowledges staff salaries will be an issue and the continued cuts into nurses’ pay is not sustainable. Ministers must listen to his advice and agree to pay nurses more.
If they really want to make this system work it will require investment - in systems and processes, but particularly in its staff.
The plan seems to acknowledge the profession’s expertise. And yet why do I get the feeling that handing control over to nurses and midwives might just be a strategy for getting more for less?
Nursing should not be seen as the cheap option, but as the best option. And often that can also be the most cost-effective option. But I just hope that the politicians and the senior managers of NHS England don’t just think of nursing as a means of fixing everything without giving it due respect.
This week’s Nursing Times Awards will prove just how much nurses can achieve. But let’s hope that the five-year plan also ensures there are enough nurses to continue doing that good work. Because without the goodwill, talent, intelligence and hard work of nursing, I don’t think the NHS has got another five years left in it.
Jenni Middleton, editor
email@example.com. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed