The Royal College of Nursing has fired a warning shot from its congress this week in Bournemouth.
As the government prepares to enact its election pledge for a seven-day NHS, the RCN warned there are too few nurses to staff such a service.
The college warned that the NHS now has 2,295 fewer nurses working in expert or leadership roles than in 2010, according to figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre - and that, it says, is a disaster for an NHS that wants to be “open all hours” as these nurses support and supervise services.
As we have frequently reported in Nursing Times, there are barely enough nurses to cover the rotas now.
In numerous Nursing Times surveys over the past few years, nurses have told us their ward or unit is sometimes or often dangerously understaffed. Stretch out those staff across a seven-day service and the vision isn’t the one that the government paints - of a happy NHS welcoming all comers at all times of the day.
Instead, it’s one exposed as being too lean, with many worrying gaps in skills and expertise. It’s not the utopia David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt propose, but a health service that will frustrate - or worse, endanger - the public.
The government is making promises to the public without writing the cheques to pay for them. Mr Hunt pledges more clinical staff, but nowhere near what experts say are needed.
The nursing profession is still reeling from the news of the suspension of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s work on the safe-staffing guidance. Many believe this is a cost-cutting measure, despite reassurances from NHS England and chief nursing officer Jane Cummings. They say they are taking control of safe staffing to ensure it works for all settings and is about “outputs” as well as “inputs”, and it’s nothing to do with the wage bill.
Congress is an opportunity for nursing to make its voice heard, and as the profession continues to be under attack from government, that voice needs to be loud and clear.
This will be Peter Carter’s last congress, as he hands over the chief executive and general secretary baton to his colleague Janet Davies. We hope she can negotiate, represent and speak out assertively on behalf of her members and nursing as a whole.
The profession is all ears, but what will make the government listen?
Jenni Middleton, editor
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