Commons health committee: Nursing workforce undervalued and not sufficiently recognised, says NMC chief executive

Nursing and Midwifery Council chief executive Jackie Smith says nurses leaving the profession ‘tragic’ 
Jackie Smith

Nursing and Midwifery Council chief executive Jackie Smith says nurses leaving the profession ‘tragic’ 

  • Health committee hear nursing workforce treated as a ‘commodity’
  • Continuing professional development (CPD) funding cut by 60%
  • Former shadow minister for mental health questions rationale for cuts

The nursing workforce does not feel valued, the head of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has said.

Nursing and Midwifery Council chief executive Jackie Smith in
​​​​​front of the Commons health committee 

NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said it was tragic that nurses were leaving the profession because what they do is not recognised sufficiently.

The Commons health committee probed Ms Smith on a recent report from the NMC, which highlighted that more midwives and nurses are leaving the register than joining it.

Working conditions main issue

Ms Smith told MPs on Tuesday: ‘The 4,500 who responded to the small survey we did in July said that the issue for them was working conditions.

‘That can encompass a lot of things. That’s about staffing levels, flexibility, pay and that’s also about not investing in their future – cuts to continuing professional development (CPD) are a major issue. That’s what I hear when I go around the UK.

‘The nursing profession does not feel valued and what it does is not recognised sufficiently so for them, they think: “I may as well go elsewhere and do something else” and that’s tragic. That’s not what we need.’

Meanwhile, Lord Willis, member of the House of Lords Committee on the long-term sustainability of the NHS and author of an influential report into the future of nursing, told the health committee that the nursing workforce has been treated as a commodity.

‘Problem with overseas recruitment’

He told MPs: ‘We have a real problem with overseas recruitment.

'We have treated our nursing workforce very much as a commodity. We have treated it as a commodity because when there have been shortages we have been able to buy in from elsewhere. That is a wrong thing to do.

‘We have brought people in either from the EU or sometimes from developing countries where, quite frankly, that has been shameful. What we need to do is turn that on its head.

‘We traditionally over the last 150 years brought people in from abroad and trained them and returned them to their countries to develop onwards.

‘I think with that process of developing and returning we would be able to plug a very significant gap, rather than as a commodity, but as a contribution to world nursing.'

Ms Smith and Lord Willis were giving evidence to the health committee inquiry into the nursing workforce. The session discussed specific issues relating to regulation, language testing for overseas nurses, university funding and skill mix.

Cuts in CPD budget labelled ‘nonsense’

Also giving evidence was Council of Deans chair Brian Webster-Henderson.

Committee member Luciana Berger, Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree and former shadow minister for mental health, asked Mr Webster-Henderson his views on the fact the budget to fund CPD 'has been cut by 60% compared to two years ago'.

Council of Deans chair Brian Webster-Henderson speaking to the committee

She said that Health Education England, the Department of Health, NHS Improvement and NHS England had made ‘not one single mention of CPD’ in their joint submission to the committee.

Professor Webster-Henderson replied: 'I find it surprising they didn't. It would be absolutely wrong to think, that as a nurse myself, I could work in a medical ward for a year and then move to a surgical unit and think that I would have the exact skills I needed.’

Earlier he said of CPD cuts: ‘We have to cater for the ongoing development of the workforce, to make sure people who have been in the system a long time are getting updated education, knowledge and skills to help care for the community around them.

‘I just can't get my head around why we've had a 60% cut to CPD requirements at a time when we're introducing new standards.

‘This is not the time to be cutting CPD, this is a time to be investing in the workforce. It’s a nonsense, really.'

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