Kayleigh Peel: Tragedy looms for the NHS unless nursing recaptures its appeal

Newly qualified nurse Kayleigh Peel loves her job, but short staffing, low pay and lack of funding to aid career progression are making her question her career choices

Newly qualified nurse Kayleigh Peel loves her job, but short staffing, low pay and lack of funding to aid career progression are making her question her career choices

Kayleigh Peel (second from right) helps deliver postcards from RCN members
to 10 Downing Street during the campaign to scrap the pay cap.
Picture: Steve Baker

As a newly qualified nurse starting my first staff nurse post, I have already spent hundreds of unpaid hours working in the NHS. Most other graduates entering a profession cannot even come close to claiming this type of experience when starting their first role.

When I began my degree three years ago I was enthralled by working on the wards. During my training I have observed open heart surgery and hysterectomies, spent time nursing in Zambia and participated in research studies that could shape the future of nursing.

While all this has been a tremendous privilege, I constantly find myself questioning my career choices. Should I have chosen a different degree or alternative course?

Inevitable self-doubt

I love what I do and delivering quality patient care is a passion, but self-doubt is inevitable when I am asked consistently by qualified nurses if I am still sure I want to be a nurse. At first I dismissed all this negative talk, but then I realised that in recent years the nursing crisis has developed exponentially.

On placements, I met nurses who had been forced to take second jobs to feed their children, and watched nurses leave for low-skilled jobs in restaurants because the stress of nursing had become too much. One nurse I spoke to had remortgaged her home as it had become hard to keep up with the repayments.

Nurses’ livelihoods affected

We have now reached the point where this issue is not only affecting nurses’ livelihoods, it is also putting patients at risk. In a report by the RCN based on a survey that obtained 30,000 responses, 55% said shifts did not have the planned level of nursing staff, and 53% warned that staff shortages are compromising care.

The staffing crisis shows no sign of improving any time soon. In July, figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council showed that for the first time more nurses and midwives are leaving the UK register than joining it. In October, a report from The Health Foundation highlighted a 1,200 fall in the number of people applying for undergraduate nursing courses this year, after the bursary was abolished in August.

Then there are cuts to Health Education England funding, which are making it more difficult than ever for nurses to progress in their careers. It’s hardly surprising that nurses are leaving to look for jobs with better staffing levels, less responsibility and more convenient hours for the same wage.

An appealing career choice

Following the announcement by health secretary Jeremy Hunt in October that the 1% public sector pay cap is to be lifted, chancellor Philip Hammond pledged in his autumn budget to make funds available to cover a pay rise for nurses. It is imperative that these additional funds are found, and that nurses get a decent pay rise that does not come at the expense of cuts to other elements of patient care.

We need nurses. To recruit diligent and conscientious individuals to the profession, it is paramount that nursing is seen as the appealing career choice it once was. Failure to do so will only result in tragedy for the NHS.

Kayleigh Peel is a staff nurse in cardiothoracic surgery at University Hospitals Birmingham, and an RCN student information officer for the University of Birmingham 

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