Halt exodus from nursing: that’s the key to easing NHS gridlock

Better pay for nurses is essential to solving workforce crisis across health and social care, and funding of extra beds will only work when staffing is right

Better pay for nurses is essential to solving workforce crisis across health and social care, and funding of extra beds will only work when staffing is right

England’s health and social care secretary Steve Barclay addresses the Commons Picture: Parliament TV

Nursing leaders have expressed concern over how thousands of extra care home beds – promised by ministers to ease pressure on the NHS – will be staffed.

Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay yesterday committed £200 million to fund immediate short-term places lasting up to four weeks in community settings, including care homes until the end of March.

Announcing the funding in parliament yesterday, Mr Barclay said more physical capacity would be created for emergency departments by putting up temporary structures. These could be cabins installed in hospital car parks.

‘By using modular units, this capacity will be available in weeks, not months,’ the minister said.

Nurse workforce crisis must be addressed first

The RCN said that while the policy aspiration was correct, it would not succeed without addressing the ongoing workforce crisis.

The college’s director in England Patricia Marquis said: ‘The lack of beds in social care isn’t really the problem, it’s the lack of staff. There is a dire workforce shortage across nursing and it is biting particularly hard in community services.

‘Without investment in staff, providing more facilities – whether it’s more beds in care homes or hospitals – won’t make a difference. To halt the exodus in nursing, ministers must pay staff fairly.’

Bottlenecks in acute hospital discharging

Some 13,000 people currently occupy hospital beds in England despite being medically fit to be discharged. This, with more than 25,000 nurses having left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register in the year to September 2022. The exodus comes as the NHS faces more than 47,000 nurse vacancies, and in England's social care system, one of the workforce groups with the highest vacancy levels is registered nursing.

British Association of Critical Care Nurses chair Nicki Credland warned nurses would not be able to provide safe care if the workforce crisis was not addressed.

She told Nursing Standard: ‘Nurses simply cannot staff existing beds, nor can we provide safe care, given the situation we are working in. The more diluted the staff-to-bed ratio becomes, the more unsafe care will be through no fault of staff. The idea of increasing care home beds is equally ridiculous. The care sector is in a very similar staffing situation.’

Mr Barclay also announced £50 million of additional capital funding for hospitals. This money is expected to be used to expand hospital discharge lounges and ambulance hubs for paramedics waiting to hand over patients.

The NHS Confederation said the workforce shortage is the NHS’s single biggest challenge, and the government’s pledge to ‘finally’ publish a workforce strategy this year could go some way to addressing this.

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