The Commons’ health select committee released a major report on the nursing workforce on Friday, advising leaders that they needed to recruit nurses “at scale and pace”.
But that could not possibly be enough pace for the trusts currently struggling with winter pressures.
On Monday, we reported that Hull and East Yorkshire Hospital Trust was redeploying specialist nurses to accident and emergency and using administrative staff to act as runners and support its clinical staff in the wards. This move is intended to help the trust cope with “unprecedented demand” in emergency admissions this month.
It is surprising how much unprecedented demand there is around this winter. It is turning into something of an epidemic, spreading throughout every NHS trust we come into contact with. I only wish we had a vaccine for it.
I think that the staff and leadership of Hull and East Yorkshire should be applauded for their adaptability and desire to provide life-saving care. But let us not pretend that making that decision will have been easy, or that running an operation with various skillsets and levels of understanding will be a walk in the park.
If they are redeploying staff who have not been in an emergency department for some time – if ever – that will prove challenging.
Administrative colleagues are doing their best to support them, but their normal work will be building up. Hospitals do not run with excess capacity in any department, and by robbing Peter to pay Paul, trusts are storing up issues for later.
There seems to be a complete ignorance at ministerial level of the impact of the government’s savage attacks on nursing and healthcare in recent years. But we are now seeing the results of those decisions to remove the bursary, to pay nurses less and to fund insufficient nursing posts. The results are poor patient experience, and worse – a safety risk.
I hope things go well at the trust and I am sure this is being carefully managed to protect patients, but this is not the situation that any hospital should find itself in.
We need properly resourced trusts, with adequate numbers of staff who are trained and competent at treating and diagnosing what’s in front of them.
Nurses, and their clinical colleagues, should not be forced to work in environments that are unfamiliar and under pressure. Hospitals should have the right number of staff to meet the demand.
Winter happens every year. NHS leaders and the government know it is coming – the seasons are fairly predictable. And yet they do nothing or very little to shield the staff from its impact. While good-hearted NHS staff are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep services running, no one needs to worry in Westminster that the service is falling over and at breaking point.