If ministers make one new year’s resolution, it should be to fund nurses’ pay properly

The experience of COVID-19 is proof healthcare workforce planning must improve

Picture: PA

As we approach the end of the year, it’s customary to reflect on the previous 12 months.

Well, it’s no overstatement to say this has certainly been a year like no other, and 2021 is likely to carry on where 2020 left off until this pandemic is brought under control.

Grounds for hope of coronavirus vaccines, but we’re not in the home straight

The COVID-19 vaccines offer hope, but this tumultuous journey is far from over, as nurses know better than most.

The sheer number of people who have or, sadly, are yet to die from this awful virus can never be forgotten. We count more than 100 nursing staff in the UK alone among them and around 1,500 worldwide. The impact of all the lost lives will be felt by countless people, and for many years to come.

It is premature to undertake a comprehensive analysis of this continuing and dreadful period. But even without the perspective that the passage of time will bring, it is apparent there are many lessons to be learned from issues nurses have been protesting about for years.

Nursing vacancies are a case in point. It is not to say that if the 36,655 shortage of nurses – and that’s just in England – had been addressed earlier, a larger workforce could have seen off a global health crisis. But having the right number of professionals in place would certainly have put the NHS on a stronger footing to deal with the sudden demands of a pandemic, and given it capacity it had to stretch every sinew to find.

Mass redeployment in the NHS was appreciated at an individual level, but it is not a solution

Critical care and other staff appreciated the dedication shown by redeployed colleagues and temporary registrants but no one would suggest mass redeployment is a sustainable solution for a prolonged crisis. Better workforce planning, including for protracted emergency situations, has to be considered a priority, as it should have been all along.

Similarly, we need to revisit the staff-retention actions and employment practices in the NHS People Plan to avoid losing staff to burnout in even ‘normal’ times.

Ministers take note – it will be nurses and their multidisciplinary colleagues who get us through

If governments were to make just one new year’s resolution it must be to remember and reward those who eventually get us through this fraught time. It won’t be the overpaid management consultants, test and trace (from which even ministers have stopped using the NHS prefix), or ministerial magic. It will be nurses, doctors and all NHS and social care staff.

These extraordinary professionals will expect their calls for better pay and staffing to be heard.