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Susan Osborne: let's learn from the prison officer's dispute in our fight for a safer NHS

It's time to create a social movement and pull together to lobby for safe staffing levels.
Susan Osborne

It's time to create a social movement and pull together to lobby for safe staffing levels

On 15 November, up to 10,000 prison officers in England and Wales stopped work. The move was part of a protest against staffing cuts that have caused an alarming deterioration in safety in prisons, putting both staff and prisoners at risk.

A social movement is now building in the Prison Officers Association, advocating for all members to resign if mandated minimum officer-to-prisoner ratios are not introduced and funded.

A similar situation arose almost 20 years ago in the US. In 1997-98, 7,500 members of the California Nurses Association took on health provider Kaiser Permanente, resigning en masse over unsafe hospital restructuring, cuts to nursing numbers and the ensuing concerns for patient safety.

In 1999, California became the first state in the US to introduce mandated minimum nurse-to-patient ratios for

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It's time to create a social movement and pull together to lobby for safe staffing levels

On 15 November, up to 10,000 prison officers in England and Wales stopped work. The move was part of a protest against staffing cuts that have caused an alarming deterioration in safety in prisons, putting both staff and prisoners at risk. 

A social movement is now building in the Prison Officers Association, advocating for all members to resign if mandated minimum officer-to-prisoner ratios are not introduced and funded. 

A similar situation arose almost 20 years ago in the US. In 1997-98, 7,500 members of the California Nurses Association took on health provider Kaiser Permanente, resigning en masse over unsafe hospital restructuring, cuts to nursing numbers and the ensuing concerns for patient safety.  

In 1999, California became the first state in the US to introduce mandated minimum nurse-to-patient ratios for all hospital units. 

With significant staff shortages, a real terms pay cut of 14% since 2010 and the scrapping of the student bursary, life has also been tough for nurses in the UK. 

But it is the introduction of nursing associates, which unions have warned will be used as substitutes for registered nurses, which is the most worrying of recent developments. 

Only this week, the authors of a study involving more than 13,000 nurses from six European countries warned that replacing qualified nurses with nursing assistants could threaten the lives of patients. 

A tipping point has been reached. Like prison officers and the nurses in California, UK nurses need to create a social movement and fight for a safe and efficient NHS.


About the author

Susan Osborne

Susan Osborne is chair of the Safe Staffing Alliance

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