Remember when hospitals were asked to publish their nurse staffing levels in the wake of the Francis report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire?
It was an attempt to show that the government knew that transparency and openness about such things was important. It suggested that the government recognised that nursing care and the number of people available to do it had a direct impact on the outcomes, safety and experience of patients. It gave many in the health service hope that these things would be prioritised.
False hope, as it turns out. In the space of just four years, we now find ourselves in a situation where reporting the figures is a moot point because we are thousands and thousands short of nurses, with no hope of ever having enough unless something dramatic happens.
What was the point of asking people to report their staffing levels if you were never going to invest in enough nurses to reach what is considered a safe level? In fact, the coalition government and successive Conservative governments have disinvested in nursing, and the profession has arguably found itself at rock bottom.
Nurse establishments have become a joke, as nurse directors are so far away from those numbers because they are unable to use agency staff, their overseas workforce have left; their UK-trained nurses are leaving the profession in droves, and now those applying to do nursing courses are down.
Jeremy Hunt’s plan to flood the market with nursing associates is all very well, but it’s still a while off and won’t solve our problems now. If he continues to try to drive thousands more nursing associates through the system, he is merely robbing the service and social care of its healthcare assistant workers, who are propping up care. He is just moving the problem around, not solving the real gaps.
According to research published last week in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, we now have the clearest indication of the link between missed care and mortality, and the importance of degree-level nursing in outcomes. The findings, the latest analysis of data from the seminal RN4CAST study, shows there is a causal relationship between registered nurse staffing levels and patient mortality.
“If there are not enough registered nurses on hospital wards, necessary care is left undone, and people’s lives are put at risk,” according to one of the report’s authors Dr Jane Ball, principal research fellow at the University of Southampton.
Our longest-serving health secretary has paid lip service to patient safety on every stage and every podium up and down the country since he started this job, but his worthy words must sound hollow to the thousands of nurses struggling to provide care safely. His government has done everything it can to rob the health and social care system of its nurses and, as a result, ensured those in need of care are left wanting.
Care is being missed, lives are being endangered and also lost. Because this government has failed to prioritise the nursing workforce crisis, and continues to disinvest in it by failing to provide adequate funding for pay, conditions and post-registration training, while also removing student bursaries to save a few quid at a time when the future of the profession was already hanging by a thread.
”It is already too late to save the massive holes we currently have in the profession”
The RN4CAST study looked at care missed on the wards of 31 acute trusts. However, that is not the only place where care is being missed – the government also seems to be missing the ability to care about exactly what it has done for this profession and the patients it serves.
It is already too late to save the massive holes we currently have in the profession, but if they reverse some of their devastating decisions now, we might just manage to keep nursing alive.
If ever there was a time for a U-turn on pay, the bursary and investment into continuing professional development, this is it.