Editorial

Safe staffing sidestep makes the task harder

Of all the issues that concerned Nursing Standard readers in the run up to the general election, two stood head and shoulders above the others. Pay, which will always feature prominently in such surveys, and safe staffing levels.

Of all the issues that concerned Nursing Standard readers in the run up to the general election, two stood head and shoulders above the others. Pay, which will always feature prominently in such surveys, and safe staffing levels.

So you may be aghast to learn, if you have not heard already, that the new government has called off work by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to establish guidelines on the number of nurses needed in a whole host of clinical settings in England.

The response of professional leaders has bordered on apoplexy. Members of the Safe Staffing Alliance, set up by Nursing Standard, have gone into overdrive, writing letters to the health secretary demanding a rethink and to a national newspaper expressing their alarm publicly.

The response of professional leaders to the announcement has bordered on apoplexy

The alliance comprises the most eminent and expert group of nurses and nursing leaders imaginable. It includes the Council of Deans of Health, the RCN, Unison and the Florence Nightingale Foundation, has the support of the Patients Association and comprises academics such as Jane Ball from the National Institute for Health Research and the profession’s greatest of grandees, Dame Audrey Emerton.

So when such a respected group describes the government’s decision as a retrograde step and shortsighted, and says the move will undermine patient care and public confidence in the profession, ministers would be wise to take heed.

The work will instead be taken on by the country’s chief nursing officer, Jane Cummings. In a letter to her own boss, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, she makes the case for taking a broader, more holistic approach that extends beyond nursing to other healthcare professions and support staff.

The task is huge and she will need the support of professional leaders to have any chance of delivering. Yet the decision to take NICE off the job has antagonised the very people she needs on her side.

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