NHS staff have displayed “incredible resilience” in meeting unprecedented patient demand this winter, according to a report from NHS Improvement last week.
But isn’t it time we stop thanking staff for coping with whatever is thrown at them and, instead, just give them the tools they need to do their job properly?
I’ve heard the health secretary tell conference audiences countless times they are coping with record levels of admissions and working in very difficult circumstances – then he walks away, turns off the bursary tap and rubber stamps the slashing of Health Education England’s workforce development budget. If NHS leaders and ministers want to actually support NHS staff, rather than simply commending them, they need to think about what they can do to help them meet demand.
The issue is workforce, as the NHS Improvement report itself indicates. Although demand has increased, the number of nurses to provide care has decreased. The report says there are over 35,000 whole-time-equivalent vacancies in the NHS, most of which are filled by bank and agency workers.
NHS Improvement’s latest initiative aims to help with that issue by supporting trusts to devise nurse retention strategies, as Mark Radford exclusively tells Nursing Times. And this seems the right approach – because although much attention has been focused on recruiting new staff and the damage being done to the profession’s pipeline by removing the bursary, poor retention has the potential to do much greater damage if left unchecked. Nursing Times follow that strategy with interest.
Employees must feel they are valued – pay, conditions, training and career development are fundamental tenets of staff retention. We must be clear – the NHS cannot run on just the resilience and goodwill of its staff.
This is my last issue as editor of Nursing Times. It has been a huge privilege to work on such a special brand, lead my talented team and – most of all – champion such an impressive and deserving profession. I shall miss this world immensely. I will keep in touch through my position as trustee of the Queen’s Nursing Institute and, of course, my many friends in the field. Thank you to all of you for your support, enthusiasm, passion and interest in all we’ve done on Nursing Times over the past few years.