At the Nursing Times Deputies’ Congress, taking place this week, we asked the audience if they thought the country had the right strategy to handle the nursing workforce crisis we face. I was hardly surprised when 96% of the delegates thought it did not.
In fact, as far as I can see, there doesn’t seem to be any strategy at all.
For several years, there has been a shortage of nurses, but these have now been joined by figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council revealing the nursing register is shrinking and latest UCAS figures showing fewer people want to train as nurses at university.
Many nurses here in Leeds reflected the views of others I speak to – they believe that there is no national strategy for the nursing workforce.
Joining me on stage and listening to the result of our snap poll on workforce strategy were, among others, NMC chief executive Jackie Smith and Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies. Ms Davies’ reaction to the workforce crisis was clear – “Don’t panic,” she urged.
She asked the deputy chief nurses in the room to do what they can to keep their nurses and make them feel valued, make sure they have breaks, have water, and give them training and development where possible.
“That’s what really motivates nurses,” she said.
Ms Smith agreed that this was not a time to panic. I asked her about the current stocktake of its English language testing system, and the current pressure on the NMC to reduce the score to allow more nurses from overseas to practise in the UK.
In the room, deputy chief nurses nodded and commented that reducing the score would be helpful. But Ms Smith held firm, arguing that any change would only be in reaction to the workforce pressures, not because it protects the public.
Much as the regulator will make itself unpopular with nursing directors and overseas nurses if it does not reduce the score, its job is public protection not widening the gates to help solve a workforce crisis that was caused by the coalition government and worsened by the current administration.
Is it just me, or does it seem odd that people are turning to the regulator to fix this problem? Surely, it’s the job of ministers and the chief nursing officers to build a strategy to fix the workforce challenges? How can it be that we expect the regulator to lower the safety bar?
According to the deputy chief nurses I’ve been sharing a conference room with for the past 24 hours, what they need is a strategy. And perhaps more than that, what they want is a ray of hope that someone, somewhere is doing some thinking about this, and that plan is not just “make it easier to join the register”.