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‘Nurses appear to have got used to solving their own problems’

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I spent today with a clutch of matrons, is “clutch” right? Better than “gaggle”? I don’t think “herd” works.

“School” feels a bit fey. If they were asses, the collective noun would be a “drove” but they aren’t so it isn’t. If they were baboons they would be either a “troop” or a “flange”. I like the idea of a flange of matrons. Or a “congress”, that’s quite stately isn’t it?

“They were good people. Creative, flexible, committed to problem solving”

We were trying to address some staff shortages, joint planning around education, new role development and creative budgeting. You know very well that people do that sort of thing all the time these days.

They were good people. Creative, flexible, committed to problem solving. Mindful of what felt like compromise, but well-versed in the long-term difficulties around staffing. I think we came up with a plan, it will create some opportunities, it will take some work but it was hopeful.

At no point did I feel the need to say, “of course we don’t really need to worry about this now because a group of MPs are getting together to explore why there might be a nursing shortage. I know, it’s a relief isn’t it?” A bit like the cavalry coming over the hill; here come a “rabble” of MPs or a “flutter”, or dare I say – for this is the collective noun for buffalo – an “obstinacy” of parliamentarians to examine why a profession is facing a recruitment crisis.

A profession that has had pay cuts for seven years; financial support taken away from prospective students; working conditions diminished; workloads increased; seen its overseas workforce chased out of town; and has grown used to the fact that continuing professional development is a video on information governance.

No doubt the “intrusion” (the noun for cockroaches, just saying) of MPs will come up with a range of insights beyond anything a “bushel” of nurses could offer and I look forward to reading the reports when they emerge in about 2026. Once we have a well-investigated and validated by MPs understanding of why there is a staffing crisis, what will they do next?

Unless the investigation discovers something completely unexpected, such as the possibility we have actually recruited, retained or re-registered 70,000 nurses but sent them all to the wrong address, any solution that anyone of any political persuasion who has an IQ that extends into double figures will conclude: “we may have to invest some money in stuff”.

“Nurses and colleagues seem to me to have got used to trying to solve their own problems, on an almost monthly basis”

Except by making it a select committee issue one might assume there is a subtext that demands a certain political perspective and economic restraint. In short: “investigate why we have a nursing shortage but don’t tell us to either pay appropriate salaries, support the education and training of the future workforce, address working conditions or acknowledge and reverse disinvestment.”

There may be “nurse leaders” (the collective name for curs is “cowardice”) suggesting that the key issue is a governmental recognition of the crisis; they are at last looking at clinical staffing and not just staring at Jeremy Hunt and thinking “hasn’t he got funny eyes” and perhaps that is a point. After all, most of us over 40 know that NHS investment is cyclical, perhaps this is the beginning of a change from austerity.

That requires a faith in political judgment and moral clarity that I find hard to share. Nurses and colleagues seem to me to have got used to trying to solve their own problems, on an almost monthly basis. They deserve enormous credit for that. I don’t personally see that need changing now a “mob” (originally deer) of MPs are on the case.

Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness.

Follow him on Twitter: @markacradcliffe.

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