Comment

NHS workforce crisis: let’s shift the pressure from nurses to politicians

The voice of nurses has never been stronger, and we must use it to ensure election promises are made good, says the RCN’s new director for England
Prime minister Boris Johnson speaking to a patient on a ward, accompanied by healthcare staff

The voice of nurses has never been stronger, and we must use it to ensure election promises are made good, says the RCNs new director for England

When I began nursing in the mid-1990s there were, of course, always challenges, but the pressures were not as intense as they are today.

It has become abundantly clear recently that pressure of work is pushing many nurses to breaking point, if not beyond.

While Brexit was the reason the election was called, the NHS was probably the most hotly debated topic this could not have been achieved without nursing staff

It is in this context that nurses across the UK have forced the issue of safe nurse staffing to the top of the agenda, and secured pledges on nurse numbers from all parties in the recent general election campaign. I am

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The voice of nurses has never been stronger, and we must use it to ensure election promises are made good, says the RCN’s new director for England

Prime minister Boris Johnson speaking to a patient on a ward, accompanied by healthcare staff
Picture: PA

When I began nursing in the mid-1990s there were, of course, always challenges, but the pressures were not as intense as they are today.

It has become abundantly clear recently that pressure of work is pushing many nurses to breaking point, if not beyond.

‘While Brexit was the reason the election was called, the NHS was probably the most hotly debated topic – this could not have been achieved without nursing staff’

It is in this context that nurses across the UK have forced the issue of safe nurse staffing to the top of the agenda, and secured pledges on nurse numbers from all parties in the recent general election campaign. I am so proud of the way nursing staff have made their voice heard.

While Brexit was the reason the election was called, the NHS and healthcare was probably the most hotly debated topic of the campaign – this could not have been achieved without nursing staff.

Keeping up the pressure on funding and nurse numbers

Never before have we had such high-profile promises from politicians to deliver both more nurses and a health and social care system able to cope with the twin challenges of an ageing population and rapidly escalating costs.

So our mission now is keep up the pressure and ensure those promises are made good. We will not accept anything short of what we need to ensure that nursing staff are able to do their jobs safely, and that funding is sufficient to make sure that those considering becoming nurses in the future are not put off by financial burdens.

When funding for nursing students was removed in 2016, there was an immediate fall in the number of applications for nursing degrees, something that both the college and students had warned would happen.

Student grants are just the first step

Thanks in no small part to relentless campaigning by RCN members, the government has committed to providing maintenance grants for all new and current nursing students. This is an initial positive step but it is not enough, and we will not stop lobbying until we achieve a return to full financial support, covering tuition fees.  

I didn’t have to pay to become a nurse and I don’t believe anyone else should. Until we get back to the level of support that students received previously, it is going to be a challenge to attract, support and retain the people we need to be able to deliver safe and effective care across all areas of nursing.

So-called corridor nursing has emerged as a new element of the nursing workforce crisis in the NHS
So-called ‘corridor nursing’ is a new development in the nursing workforce crisis in the NHS
Picture: Neil O'Connor

Northern Ireland campaign shows what front-line nurses can do

As we have seen with our members in Northern Ireland, those who work on the front line really can bring about change. While negotiations related to safe staffing and pay parity in Northern Ireland are still taking place as I write, we would not have got to this stage without nurses there taking decisive action.

Similarly, only nurses can help us achieve the real change we need to reduce the current record number of nursing vacancies.

‘With emergency departments bursting at the seams, nurses are regularly delivering care to people on trolleys in hospital corridors... We need to stop this practice becoming normalised’

The lack of staff in the clinical setting is having a tangible impact on the way people under our care are treated. The development of what is becoming known as ‘corridor nurses’ is a disturbing recent trend; with emergency departments bursting at the seams, nurses are having to regularly deliver care to people on trolleys in hospital corridors.

Indeed, early results from a recent Nursing Standard survey suggest 70% of respondents have had to provide care to a patient in a corridor in the past 12 months. Worryingly, 60% said it was something that happened on a daily basis.

Corridor care leaves patients and staff vulnerable

Nursing teams are doing their best to manage this situation, but it is leaving them feeling vulnerable and unsafe, and it means many people under their care are being denied the privacy and dignity they need. We need to stop this practice becoming normalised.

The voice of nurses has never been stronger, and will grow louder if we work together. The RCN’s campaigning will continue in this International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, but we cannot do it without nursing staff, who are the focus of all that we do.

We will not stop until we achieve our aims and I hope you will continue to join us as we fight for you the way you fight for your patients.


Mike Adams is the RCN’s director for England

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