Janet Davies: Nursing Workforce report demands solutions to problems facing the profession

Janet Davies applauds the recommendations from a cross-party group of MPs about time for breaks and handovers, pay rises and other improvements

Janet Davies applauds the recommendations from a cross-party group of MPs about time for breaks and handovers, pay rises and other improvements

Nurses must be allowed time to take their breaks. Picture: Charles Milligan

The RCN welcomes the Nursing Workforce report that looks at problems facing the profession, and is pleased to have been able to play a key part in the Commons health committee’s consideration of the evidence.

This is the most important report on nurse staffing for many years, and we welcome the fact that it reflects so many of the concerns we have been raising for years.

Last week we learned that last year, for the first time, more nurses left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register than joined it. The most welcome of the committee’s conclusions is the recognition that although major changes have recently been made to routes into nursing, too little attention has been given to retaining the existing workforce.  

We echo the report’s analysis that there are two main reasons for the high level of nurses quitting the profession: extremely difficult working conditions and significant cuts to continuing professional development (CPD). 

The damaging effect of difficult working conditions

On working conditions, the committee paints a picture all nursing staff will recognise – of staff being unable to take breaks, having no time to prepare food or drink, and staying late on every shift.  

The RCN had particularly drawn to the committee’s attention the fact that nurses routinely have to work over their shifts to complete handovers to colleagues. We therefore welcome the recommendation for England’s chief nursing officer Jane Cummings to write to all directors of nursing asking them to confirm whether nurses are able to complete handovers without staying late, and whether they have time to take their breaks.  

If this process confirms to the government that nurses are indeed not given enough time for breaks or handovers, we will want to see firm action to reverse this.

On CPD, the RCN highlighted to the committee how the budget for this has been reduced from £205 million to £84 million in the past two years. We therefore back the report’s unequivocal demand that Health Education England must reverse these cuts, and that in future any funding allocated to trusts for CPD should be ring-fenced.   

Brexit is causing anxiety among nurses from other EU nations

A further factor the committee says may be causing some nursing staff to leave the profession is the uncertainty surrounding the position of nurses from other European Union nations.  

Although home secretary Amber Rudd indicated to trusts before Christmas that such staff will be allowed to continue to work in the NHS and live in the UK, we support the report’s call for the government to give further assurances to EU nursing staff that they will be able to remain in the UK – crucially, with their families – after Brexit.

We welcome the committee’s acknowledgement of the significant reductions in numbers of mental health and learning disability nurses, with decreases of 13% and 38% respectively since 2010.  

The report highlights how the removal of training bursaries has had a disproportionate impact on numbers of mature students, who are more likely than younger students to enter these two areas of practice, thereby compounding the problem of lack of staff in these fields. We back the committee’s call to monitor how student numbers will be affected by the switch from bursaries to loans.  

We demand a meaningful pay rise for nurses

After seven years of pay restraint, during which nursing staff have had to accept real-terms pay cuts every year, the RCN has called for a meaningful, above-inflation pay rise for staff this year.  

Nursing staff have been dismayed that ministers’ only utterances on this subject so far have linked any future pay rises to ‘improved productivity’. We welcome the committee’s demand that any attempts by the government to link pay increases with productivity must be ‘realistic’, given that nurses are already significantly overstretched.

As far as the future supply of nurses is concerned, we welcome the report’s acceptance of our argument that although we welcome the new role of nursing associate, it must not become a substitute for registered nurses.  

About the author

Janet Davies is RCN chief executive and general secretary 

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