Opinion

The joys of RCN congress

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May 7 and the general election is not the only key date this year. For nursing staff and managers there is another important date on the horizon: June 21 and the start of RCN congress.

Congress brings together nurses, managers, healthcare assistants, students and healthcare experts and is always a hive of innovation, enthusiasm and passion for nursing. It really is a highlight of the year for everyone at the RCN, and anyone attending cannot fail to be inspired. It is also an important reminder, at a time of low morale for many healthcare staff, of why we all became nurses in the first place, and how much talent and passion there is out there.

There is a morale problem in many parts of the health service and it should not be ignored. Nursing staff are under incredible pressure and they are having to provide more care with fewer resources. Demand keeps on rising but in many areas, such as mental health and the community, there are fewer nurses than five years ago. And so many nurses are struggling to make ends meet financially because of years of pay restraint.

Mental health and community have suffered disproportionately from staffing cuts, but there is another area – senior nurses and managers – where staff are also facing challenging times. In our latest Frontline First report, The Fragile Frontline, we revealed that the NHS has 2,800 fewer senior nurses than it did in April 2010. It is easy to see why trusts with struggling finances are tempted to target the more expensive posts for cuts, but this reduction in skill mix is completely wrong.

The Francis report made it clear how important it is to have ward managers who have the time to properly manage their wards. Senior nurses play a crucial role in the care and treatment of patients and are often called upon to make important and critical clinical judgements and decisions. Senior nurses also supervise and support more junior members of staff and student nurses. The loss of senior nurses means that the health service is losing skills and experience – and those who can lead and mentor the next generation of nurses.

The RCN will continue to highlight these concerns and lobby the next government to take action. But RCN congress also plays an important role in reminding nurses and managers alike of the value their roles, skills and experience ­– even in challenging times. By attending, nurses and managers get the opportunity to share innovative ideas and knowledge. They also get the opportunity to discuss new ways of working, changes in regulation and excellent examples of care. All of which has a tangible effect on improving patient care.

Managers can get involved with congress, both by attending themselves and by making it as easy as possible for their staff to attend through implementing initiatives such as allowing staff to use study leave or enabling them to swap the days that they work in that week.

The health service is facing some big challenges, and staff are under greater pressure than ever before.

It is also worth remembering how much there is to celebrate from within the nursing workforce. Despite the challenges and the pressures, nurses strive to find innovative ways to improve patient care and continue to be passionate about what they do. Congress is about celebrating this excellence and sharing good practice from all over the country. Now more than ever, nurses and nurse managers deserve some positivity – and that is what congress is all about.

About the author

Jack Cutforth, media officer, Royal College of Nursing