It seems that nurses are suddenly flavour of the month in the halls of power. At least, that is the feeling you would have got had you been at the annual gathering of England’s nurse leaders last week.
There was a lot of love for the profession from the group of senior NHS and government leaders speaking at the chief nursing officer’s summit in Birmingham. There was such a warm glow coming from the stage that I was tempted to take off my jacket.
First up, the chief executive of NHS England gave a “personal guarantee” to ensure cuts to career progression funds for nurses would be reversed over the next five years.
Simon Stevens said he recognised that continuing professional development (CPD) budgets were “slashed” due to funding reductions in recent years. “We know we have got to provide the tools to enable proper career development for nurses, midwives and health visitors,” he told conference delegates.
“Time and again, nurses have indicated in surveys and other ways the importance of CPD to them”
Obviously, this is good news on the face of it. However, not having allowed the budgets to be slashed in the first place would have been a better idea. The need to provide nurses with the tools to develop their careers surely isn’t a revelation to him; he simply ignored it before.
Time and again, nurses have indicated in surveys and other ways the importance of CPD to them, especially when it is mandated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
When so much stock is placed on retaining nurses, especially with twin pressures on the supply pipeline from the axing of the bursary and Brexit remain, CPD was at least one thing that could have been viewed as a controllable factor in an uncontrollable world and funded accordingly.
On the second day, health secretary Matt Hancock said a lot of very nice things about nurses, highlighting that his grandmother was one and generally bigging up the potential and value of the profession. “Nursing is an aspirational career for girls and boys – caring, compassionate and highly, highly skilled,” he said.
Some people I spoke to afterwards thought it bordered on patronisation but at least he was positive and said he was listening to the profession’s leaders on a range of issues, including workforce, which his predecessor Jeremy Hunt seemed to become bored of during his long tenure.
However, he blotted his copybook slightly by going off on a tangent about wanting to ban nurses being required to stand when consultants entered the room, which he claimed was “still the case in some archaic, antiquated corners of the NHS”.
Unfortunately, no one I’ve spoken to or on social media seemed to think it was still happening, at least not beyond the odd repeat of a Carry On film. In fact, his comments on this issue seemed to gain more attention than anything else he said. No doubt a government speech writer had a nasty debrief as a result.
Last up was Professor Ian Cumming, chief executive of Health Education England, who updated the audience on routes into nursing, especially the newest of all – the nursing associate role. He was largely positive, as you would expect.
However, he claimed that “thousands” of people had been rejected from nursing associate courses because they did not have the basic maths or English skills required. This problem extends into nurse training itself – and beyond nursing and healthcare into many other professions.
If anything, it is a wider society issue that really reaches into general education policy. How nursing could fix it by itself, I do not know. Catch-up courses and the like are one thing, but the learning the fundamentals of language and numbers are another.
Naturally, most of what was said by the three men in suits sounded great – after all it was designed to. But actions speak louder than words, especially when it comes to NHS spending, so we must wait see what happens next, especially regarding the implementation of the NHS Long Term Plan and its fothcoming workforce element.
But many of the solutions the three of them tabled at the conference were responding to problems resulting from this government’s previous policy decision, such as cuts to bursaries and CPD. There seems to be a lot of sudden realisation of nurses’ importance - something people in high places have been deaf to in recent years.
But there we are, we should perhaps take some comfort from the fact that NHS senior leaders are showing some warmth towards nursing – long may it last.