Nurses should know their shifts a year in advance, Hunt tells directors of nursing

Technology should be used to enable nurses to know their shift pattern a year in advance, which would help people working under pressure and cut sickness rates, Jeremy Hunt tells the Chief Nursing Officer’s Summit

Jeremy Hunt outlined two ways in which he said senior nurses could help him
improve things. Picture: Terence Philips

Nurses should be able to know what their shift pattern will be up to a year in advance, says health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Hunt urged directors of nursing at the Chief Nursing Officer for England’s Summit in Liverpool to use new technology to make this a reality and also reduce agency spending by making it easier for bank staff to book shifts.

He also championed new routes into nursing via the nursing degree apprenticeship and nursing associate roles.

In a keynote speech, Mr Hunt said workforce was his ‘biggest worry’ as health and social care secretary and outlined two ways in which senior nurses could help him improve things.

Reduced agency spending

The first was using new apps to be launched in April to ensure bank staff can book shifts at short notice, choose whether to pay pension contributions, and receive their payment within a week.

He said this would help the NHS in England to continue to reduce agency spending, which had already fallen by £1.2 billion in two years.

‘The second thing you can help me with, and it is something I don’t think we have talked about enough, is the desire many people have when they are doing a pressured job – to have more predictable shift patterns,’ Mr Hunt told the conference.

He said people were juggling busy home lives – caring for children, parents or grandparents, with both partners working – and questioned whether the current shift system was ‘fit for purpose’ if it meant ‘turning your whole life upside down’ every couple of months.

Stress and sickness rates

‘If we are going to fundamentally reduce sickness rates, which are very closely linked to stress, and also consider the number of people who choose to work three-day and four-day weeks, we need to think about this,’ he said.

‘That is something you can help me with, because the software programmes are starting to be capable of this. So we are doing what we can to make it possible, but the speed of rollout is in your hands, not mine.’

On recruitment, Mr Hunt said: ‘We announced last September the biggest single increase in nurse training places in the history of the NHS, a 25% increase in nurse training places.’

He said this would not have been financially possible under the nursing bursary scheme, but the numbers applying for courses needed to be reviewed over the next few years to monitor the effect of removing the funding.

Route for future nurses

Mr Hunt said the increased number of training places was a recognition by prime minister Theresa May of the need to keep the NHS the best in the world in the face of a ‘tsunami’ of older people, with the number of people over the age of 75 set to exceed one million in the next ten years. He said the new routes into nursing needed to be embraced.

‘You, as chief nurses, need to make sure that we get this nurse apprenticeship route starting in all our NHS trusts, because this is going to be a new way into nursing for some of our best nurses of the future – people who have actually worked in the NHS, who have got experience on the ground.’

He also said he wants to see apprenticeships expand into social care to increase community nursing.

In response to a question from the audience on continuing professional development, Mr Hunt said he recognised that training for nurses was vital and said a long-term funding solution was needed, including to cover the salaries of the extra nurses set to qualify from 2021 onwards.

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