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OPINION

‘We must support our existing staff and safeguard their future’

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The last year has again been hugely challenging for the NHS and our colleagues in social care, with continued service and financial challenges compounded by the recent uncertainty caused by Brexit. 

Daniel Mortimer

Daniel Mortimer

The resilience and professionalism of the nursing and midwifery workforce in the face of these challenges, along with their continued commitment to their patients and service users, remains a key strength of the NHS. There are, however, steps that politicians and national leaders must take to support that workforce.

The most immediate priority is to get assurances from the government for the 144,000 EU workers in the health and social care sectors over their long-term future in the UK. NHS Employers – along with the 30 other health and social care organisations that make up the Cavendish Coalition – will continue to make the case that EU citizens are a vital part of the workforce caring for service users and patients, and need certainty as to their future. 

At the same time, the coalition accepts there is far more we need to do in terms of valuing and developing the talent of our existing workforce, and improving recruitment from our local communities. In simple terms, there is still talent wasted in the NHS and there are sections of the workforce that feel underappreciated. That wasted talent weakens the care we offer patients. 

Particularly stark is the poorer workplace experience of black and minority ethnic colleagues. I know nurse leaders are committed to addressing the inequality and discrimination that BME nurses, midwives, health visitors and support staff face. It is great to see a statue of Mary Seacole taking pride of place outside St  Thomas’ Hospital in London, 135 years after her death. But this symbol now needs to be backed up with a concerted and continued effort across the NHS to ensure BME staff are no longer treated differently – and worse – than their white colleagues.

It is also the case that there are tremendous opportunities to develop the roles and practice of the nursing workforce. The Nuffield Trust’s report Reshaping the Workforce to Deliver the Care Patients Need highlighted fantastic innovations across the NHS, many led by the nursing workforce, which developed support roles and advanced practice to the benefit of patients. 

We commissioned this report so the NHS could learn the lessons of these exemplars. It challenges the NHS, both at national and local level, to adopt a more systematic and consistent approach to developing these new ways of working. It points out the need for a clearer evaluation of benefits and cautions us to remember that, while the creation of new roles such as the nursing associate and physicians’ assistant are important, we must also properly invest in the talent and potential of the existing workforce.

I will be chairing an event, called Daring to Ask, that focuses on the challenges facing the nursing workforce in the NHS on 17 November at Horizon Leeds. The event, co-hosted by NHS Confederation, NHS Employers and the Nuffield Trust, will feature expert panel speakers who will cover topics such as how we can support and develop nursing staff to make the most of their skills, what impact reforms to the nursing bursary will have on future workforce planning, how Brexit will impact on the NHS’ ability to attract highly skilled nurses from abroad and whether the new nursing associate role will help or hinder the search for a solution. Come along to find out more, have your say and discuss ideas with your health and social care colleagues – your opinion counts.

To book your place at Daring to Ask, visit bit.ly/DaringToAsk

Danny Mortimer is chief executive, NHS Employers

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