Opinion

RCN congress will highlight concerns to new government and inspire better care

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May 7 is not the only key date this year. For nursing staff and managers, there is another important date on the horizon: June 21, the start of the annual Royal College of Nursing (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 care have suffered disproportionately from staffing cuts, but senior nurses and managers 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, into care failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust made it clear how important it is to have ward managers with the time to manage their wards properly. 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. They also supervise and support junior members of staff and nursing students. Their loss means that the health service is losing skills and experience along with those who can lead and mentor the next generation of nurses.

The RCN will continue to highlight these concerns and lobby whoever forms 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 congress, nurses and managers have the opportunity to share innovative ideas and knowledge, to discuss new ways of working and changes in regulation, and to exchange excellent examples of care, all of which effectively improve patient care.

Managers can get involved with congress by attending themselves and by making it as easy as possible for their staff to attend, by allowing them to use study leave or to swap the days that they are due to work that fourth week of June.

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 about 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.

For further details of RCN congress, click here.

About the author

Peter Carter is general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing