This week should see trusts publish all planned versus actual nurse staffing numbers in hospital wards across England on the NHS Choices website. It’s a landmark moment for the profession, according to the chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings.
She says the work she and her team have done on the initiative, which is in response to the Francis report, is a major advance in safer staffing. She believes it is the start of a journey that will ensure boards pay attention to ward numbers, and justify why they have that number. “Because that’s what I can afford” won’t cut the mustard as a justification, apparently (page 4).
But if the government really wants to ensure there are enough nurses to provide care, employers don’t just need to plan to have more nurses, they need to be able to hire enough of them. The government must ensure enough nurses are trained in the first place and then motivate them to stay in nursing. Action area 6 of Compassion in Practice focuses on supporting staff experience. And as Ms Cummings said at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress in Liverpool last week: “We ignore staff experience at our peril.”
But ministers are ignoring staff experience by failing to pay nurses a decent wage, and therefore failing to recognise the value of good-quality care. Can nurses - can anyone - really continue to do a fantastic job, even though no one is valuing what they do?
RCN president Andrea Spyropoulos told congress she had heard stories of band 5 nurses going to food banks to feed their families.
Yet still the government thinks a 1% pay rise is acceptable.
Katie Sutton, a second-year Salford University student and Student Nursing Times mental health student editor, summed it up eloquently on stage in Liverpool. “I ask you, congress, when our purpose for being is to help people to live the best lives they can… do we not deserve the same?” she said.
Of course they do. But how can they get it? The RCN’s chief executive and general secretary, Peter Carter, believes next year’s general election will give nurses a chance to do just that - at the ballot box (page 4). Other unions are considering strike action. Albeit with reservations. That some nurses are contemplating the unpalatable proves one thing - that things have got really, really bad.
The transparent publication of staffing numbers on wards may well be a move in the right direction. But perhaps the government should be paying as much attention to the numbers in nurses’ pay packets.
Jenni Middleton, editor
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