The publication of staffing levels is due on 24 June, and the information will be available on the NHS Choices website (page 2).
Amid all the criticism and calls for greater transparency, more detail, and more comparable data, let’s not forget this is a tremendous step forward. It is also an enormous recognition of the impact of nursing. People are using “nursing”, “staffing levels” and “safe” in the first sentence - and many of them aren’t even nurses. That’s a good start.
A year or two ago, you would never have thought it possible that hospitals would be running around trying to fill their wards with nurses. But now it’s a priority, thanks to the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and Unite, the Safe Staffing Alliance and the 1:4 group led by Mark Boothroyd and, dare I say it, Nursing Times and its surveys that have attracted a lot of media attention.
Not long ago, you would have seen hospitals eating into their nursing numbers to reduce their wage bill. Now, hospitals are struggling to fill vacancies, heading overseas to recruit and relying probably too heavily on bank and agency nurses.
While this is a complex subject and those in charge of publishing the data have to work out how to ensure it makes sense to the public, it is still a leap forward. People now recognise that staff numbers are important - and are talking about them openly.
There are many positives in all this. However, there were no positives in the Queen’s speech as far as the Nursing and Midwifery Council is concerned. The regulator got something of a kicking in the government’s response to Francis but promised it would do better if allowed to update its processes to make it more efficient.
The government, it seems, is happy to do the criticising but not happy to help the NMC fix the problems. Because it failed to include the draft Law Commission bill on the regulation of health professionals in the Queen’s speech, it will not be discussed by this parliament (page 6). So fitness to practise hearings will stay costly, cumbersome and clunky - by law. There is nothing the NMC can do about that without the government’s input. In not helping the NMC, the government is failing to help nurses - who will ultimately pay the price for this in yet another rise in registration fees.
So, yet again, the government swipes money from nurses’ pay packets. Ever get the impression it considers the nursing profession an easy target?
Jenni Middleton, editor
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed