Comment

Paltry pay award will put lives at risk as it drives nurses out of the NHS

Until we are paid what we deserve, staff retention will continue to define the workforce crisis

Until we are paid what we deserve, staff retention will continue to define the workforce crisis

The government’s proposed pay award of 1% has caused widespread anger , but it is important that we do not suggest that nurses deserve more pay in reward for their hard work during the pandemic – it is about much more than that.

It is about the value we place on the profession and how pay contributes to recruitment and retention of staff in the NHS.

Pay rise would recognise nurses’ skills and expertise

Nurses deserve a pay rise that is commensurate with the knowledge, skills and expertise they possess, and their role in a safety-critical profession.

Until we are paid what we deserve, staff retention will continue to define the workforce crisis

Picture: iStock

The government’s proposed pay award of 1% has caused widespread anger, but it is important that we do not suggest that nurses deserve more pay in reward for their hard work during the pandemic – it is about much more than that.

It is about the value we place on the profession and how pay contributes to recruitment and retention of staff in the NHS.

Pay rise would recognise nurses’ skills and expertise

Nurses deserve a pay rise that is commensurate with the knowledge, skills and expertise they possess, and their role in a safety-critical profession.

I have taken issue many times with the idea of nurses as ‘angels’ and ‘heroes’ and in my opinion this attitude has contributed to the situation we now face.

Angels do not need to be paid; they do the job as a ‘calling’ – it is something they were ‘born to do’. What rubbish. It is high time that the nursing profession was better understood and treated with the respect it deserves.

The NHS has been chronically underfunded and understaffed for more than a decade. In real terms, staff on Agenda for Change contracts have taken up to a 15.3% pay cut over the past ten years because their pay has not kept pace with inflation.

Even before the pandemic we had about 40,000 nurse vacancies and the past year has seen a significant increase in the number of nursing staff who say they intend to leave the NHS and the profession.

‘Pandemic effect’ has prompted a rise in student applications, but not retention

Much of the press that involves the profession focuses on the increase in applications to study nursing and, while this is positive, it is not without a significant caveat.

First, we cannot rule out the ‘pandemic effect’. The increasing profile of all health professions has highlighted opportunities to school leavers and mature students alike.

‘The bottom line is that if we fail to retain staff then we fail to protect the public, the sick and the vulnerable. Ensuring that staff are paid in line with their qualifications and skill is a big part of averting this’

In a period of economic crisis, professions such as nursing are viewed as safe and protected. That makes them popular, but not necessarily for the right reasons. I want to be looked after by a nurse who does the job for all the right reasons, not because they are unlikely to be made redundant.

Second, wanting to be a nurse, gaining a place to study and then actually successfully completing a difficult degree are three very different things. This pandemic has highlighted just how little the profession is understood and we see this in retention of nursing students who did not realise what they had signed up for.

There is also a presumption that, on qualifying, these new nurses will choose to work in the NHS.

Many nurses registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council work outside of the NHS, often citing pay, career development and workplace conditions as reasons for their choice.

Finally, there is a huge elephant in the room that no-one appears to want to address – retention.

For me this is the key issue and unless it is addressed, we will continue to have a nursing workforce crisis.

Nurse retention depends on proper remuneration

No matter how many new nurses we recruit into the profession, if we are losing experienced, skilled staff in high volumes at the same time then the books simply do not balance. The analogy of the leaky bucket always springs to mind.

The bottom line is that if we fail to retain staff then we fail to protect the public, the sick and the vulnerable. Ensuring that staff are paid in line with their qualifications, expertise and skill is a big part of averting this.

The current focus is predominately on the patient. Maybe if we switched the focus to ensuring that staff well-being, including pay and working conditions, were a priority, outcomes for patients would also improve.


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