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‘If we don’t fill vacancies we can’t begin to take on other challenges’

Nursing shortage is profession’s most pressing issue, England CNO Ruth May tells summit

Nursing shortage is profession’s most pressing issue, England CNO Ruth May tells Birmingham summit


Ruth May was speaking at her first CNO summit as chief nurse. Picture: Barney Newman

England's most senior nurse has vowed to tackle vacancies, enhance pride in the profession and help nurses enact change in the NHS.

Chief nursing officer (CNO) Ruth May laid out her ambitions at her inaugural CNO summit in Birmingham on Wednesday. 

Dr May told her audience addressing workforce shortfalls was the ‘most serious’ issue the profession faced.  

‘If we don’t fill those vacancies we can’t begin to take on other challenges or make the most of other opportunities,' she said.

Investment in nursing associates

She highlighted plans to develop the new nursing associate workforce.

‘I am delighted to say Health Education England has committed £4.2 million in 2019 to support a 50% growth in nursing associate recruitment.

‘It drives numbers and improves the support each nursing associates receives to enable them to make the most of their opportunity.’

Keeping nurses in the workforce

Improving nurse retention was another area the CNO was keen to address. 

‘We need to improve staff retention by at least 2% by 2025, that is at least 12,500 nurses we wouldn’t have to replace.’

The power of empowerment

Dr May used the example of the Pathway to Excellence programme, which involves front-line staff in key decisions, enabling them to lead change, as a way to empower and retain staff.

The nurse vacancy rate at Northampton General Hospital has fallen from 17% to just under 9% since the programme was introduced in 2015.

‘It shows the power of involving front-line staff in key decision-making, empowering them to make the change they want to see in the workplace,’ the CNO said. 

She also highlighted the national Band 5 talent management programme, which identifies and supports future nurse leaders, and the expansion of the Nursing Now network of ambassadors to promote nursing as a career to children.


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