NHS staffing crisis: government, not nurses, should shoulder the burden – RCN

College wants ministers to be held legally accountable for short-staffing

College wants ministers to be held legally accountable for short-staffing

Picture: iStock

Front-line nurses are left to face the consequences of short-staffing – instead of those truly responsible, the RCN said.

The college has used its new report on patient safety to argue a lack of legal responsibility for the planning and supply of the health and care staff is fuelling the nurse staffing crisis in England.

Absence of ministerial accountability for safe staffing

The 2012 Health and Social Care Act devolved much of the responsibilities for workforce planning and supply to bodies such as Health Education England (HEE), and the secretary of state for health and social care does not have a specific duty or accountability for workforce, which the college says must be amended in statute.

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said nurses were being held back from delivering safe care by a system 'lacking teeth'.

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair

'At present, almost all accountability rests with the front-line nurse working on the understaffed ward, rather than those responsible for the system,’ she said.

'It is time patient care was future-proofed by law, and decision-makers from the government down are held to account.'

Conservative MP and nurse
Maria Caulfield

The RCN's report points to a lack of robust workforce data, an issue highlighted by Nursing Standard.

Latest NHS figures show there are 43,617 nurse vacancies in the NHS in England, a rate of 12%.

Legal responsibility for NHS workforce planning

A Department of Health and Social care spokesperson said legal responsibilities for staffing do exist.

'HEE has the devolved legal powers related to the NHS workforce and it is already a requirement for hospitals to have the right staff, in the right place, at the right time,’ they said.

The RCN counters this in its report, stating: 'HEE [is] often regarded as having responsibility for workforce, but does not have the tools and funding to increase supply to meet the needs of the population.'

Yesterday, MP and cancer nurse Maria Caulfield presented a ten-minute rule bill in the House of Commons, highlighting the nursing workforce shortage. However, the bill can go no further now because parliament has been suspended pending a new Queen's Speech.

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