Protecting nurses' well-being is a priority as vacancy rates remain critically high

Small changes in national policy are easing some staff pressures but, as Brexit looms, more needs to be done to ensure nurses feel valued and supported

Small changes in national policy are easing some staff pressures but, as Brexit looms, more needs to be done to ensure nurses feel valued and supported

Staff shortages can have a detrimental effect on each member of the workforce. Picture: iStock

In June, Health Education England announced that the national continuing professional development (CPD) budget for this year will be 17% higher than it was in 2017. 

The same month, home secretary Sajid Javid said rules capping the number of overseas nurses working in the UK would be eased to allow the NHS to recruit more staff, and RCN members on Agenda for Change contracts in England voted to accept a pay deal that would see their first significant rise in a decade.

I am pleased these changes will benefit some staff in healthcare but am concerned that other factors, such as the status of European Union nurses after Brexit, remain unclear. 

Good care comes from teams not individuals

Safe staffing is a major concern for managers and workers, as well as patients and their families, and everything possible needs to be done to ensure effective retention and recruitment of nurses so that patients can receive high standards of care. 

As a nurse director, there was never a point at which I could take my eye off this particular ball. Now the problem is even more significant, and these recent changes will not solve it.

Vacant posts are not just an issue in nursing. They affect other disciplines too, causing multidisciplinary teams to become depleted. But there is no easy fix. 

Against this backdrop, we need to consider the composition of whole teams and the mix of disciplines and roles within these teams that enable staff to work effectively and care to be given. 

This mix can include various registered professionals – as well as administrative, assistant and apprenticeship roles – and potentially moves away from planning for each discipline separately. Not looking at the workforce collaboratively risks the well-being of patients and staff. 

Holidays and breaks are essential

Health Education England chief executive Ian Cumming said the NHS workforce needs to grow by between 3% and 5% a year for the next ten years, but he forecasts a gap of 115,000 NHS staff by 2027 if nothing changes. 

Add to that the number of staff needed in private, social and voluntary sectors, as well as globally, and the scale of the problem magnifies.

Enduring high vacancy rates puts huge pressure on staff, so it is in all of our interests to pay attention to the well-being of those who provide services. It is misguided to reduce CPD, avoid taking holidays, work excessive hours or skip breaks. 

Well-being matters, and people need to feel valued, supported and engaged.

Alongside implementing changes in national policy, we have to develop retention strategies that address all aspects of work, whether physical, social, psychological or environmental. 

Safe staffing levels need to be maintained, redundant practices dropped, technology used to support work, and processes streamlined. 

Staff engagement is key to this – not all changes cost money, but to be effective they require commitment, excellent communication and the involvement of everyone.

 Caroline Shuldham is chair of the RCNi editorial advisory board. A former nursing director, she is an independent adviser on research, teaching and mentoring


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