There are not enough nurses, the ones we have got are being demoralised because the NHS is not providing them with enough training, and many are working in dreadful conditions that means they cannot possibly provide care to the standard that is required and that they want to.
These are the findings of the Commons’ health select committee’s report on the nursing workforce.
Many of you might be wondering why a group of MPs needed to take the time to discover this when you have been facing it day in, day out for some time.
“Nothing paints a more vivid picture for politicians than a nurse sitting in front of them close to tears”
But it is not like most parliamentary reports – the cross-party group of MPs behind it has taken the time to talk to staff providing care, ward sisters and a couple of directors of nursing to find out what it is really like out there in the NHS.
I know this because Nursing Times helped them to have those conversations. We submitted evidence to the committee that we collated from trust chief nurses back in October. Following that, the committee contacted me to ask if we could set up some groups of nurses for them to talk to.
The chair of the committee, Sarah Wollaston, subsequently visited our Team Leaders’ Conference in Birmingham in November and found out what life was like for sisters and other managers who are charged with trying to fill their rosters.
She and her team also visited a group of nurses in London, with representatives present from hospitals and the community working in a range of specialties, including theatre and mental health.
At times, it felt like therapy when I sat in on those groups. The nurses said thank you to the committee for listening and taking an interest. And reading its report today, it feels like they have been heard by the MPs.
Those nurses in charge of the profession may tell the government what it is like, but nothing paints a more vivid picture for politicians than a nurse sitting in front of them close to tears, because she is unable to do the best for her patients. Well actually one thing does – several nurses close to tears because they are unable to do the best for their patients.
“My hope is that this report will provide the impetus to solve the problem”
But the committee’s report should be just the beginning, and not the end. It is found what we, and more importantly what the profession, has been saying for years.
So what happens next? The report makes some sensible recommendations. It asks that Health Education England should have a clear plan for reintroducing increased funding for continuing professional development, and that specific plans be put in place to prevent the high attrition rate of student nurses.
It also says there must be planning to ensure certain specialties and sectors, such as mental health, learning disabilities and district nursing, are not casualties of the removal of the bursary.
It also recommends that the chief nursing officer for England set up a group to safeguard nurses’ wellbeing and ensure all directors of nursing write to their staff to make sure they are taking breaks and are not staying late to complete safe handovers.
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- HSC: CNO should lead drive to ensure safe nurse working conditions
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Nursing directors already know that their staff are going above and beyond to provide care. If you read the opinion pieces that we recently published by Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust chief nurse Janice Sigsworth and her counterpart at Barts Health NHS Trust, Caroline Alexander, you will be in no doubt of how much they know their staff are propping up an ailing NHS.
A letter and a new group set up by the CNO are unlikely to change that, methinks.
That is why the most important aspect of today’s report is what it is calling for above all else – that efforts must be made to expand the nursing workforce “at scale and pace”.
That is what we need to solve the problem. And my hope is that this report will provide the impetus to make that happen soon.