October 29, 2014 9.28 am This story is over 109 months old

How can we support our NHS nurses?

Overworked nurses: David Harding-Price explains what he thinks the government could do to improve NHS nurses’ roles.

In order to make care safer and ultimately cheaper, the NHS must be prepared to pay more for expertise.

The RCN’s Frontline First report has identified a loss of almost 4,000 experienced nursing posts since 2010. This is not only a dangerous loss of experience and skills that are essential to ensuring patient safety and driving up standards, it will also have a significant impact on how we support and develop future generations of nurse specialists and leaders. Furthermore, it could result in nurses leaving the profession early as they see the opportunities for career progression demolished.

Tie this in to the Royal College of Nursing report from 2013, in which we found that 60% of nurses said they had considered quitting their job in the previous year. In addition, the number saying they were enthusiastic about coming into work falling below the 70% mark for the first time in a decade as has happened, the Government should be asking the question why is this the case?

No one comes into nursing to make a fortune nor do nurses expect to sit around all day in an office. But when I hear of nurses using food banks, working extra shifts to pay for the basics and in some cases having two jobs I have to ask the question – exactly who is caring for the carers? At the same time, the amount of paperwork that nurses are being asked to complete is increasing. In the past, every ward/clinic had a clerk whose role it was to ensure equipment was ordered, notes provided and other non-clinical administration tasks completed. Increasingly these staff are being lost and still their duties have to be completed.

After working in the NHS for over 36 years, I think I can safely say I have seen most things, but even I was shocked to hear of some managers in the NHS giving themselves 30+% pay rises whilst expecting nurses to cover the service deficits on either basic pay or no additional pay.
The NHS spends a fortune every year on agency staff and increasingly staff who work full time in the NHS are finding the agency staff unable or even in some cases unwilling to be anything more than a number on a duty roster.

A simple solution would be if the NHS paid overtime to the staff who work on the wards, in the clinics and in the community for the extra work they do to care for their patients. It would in the long-term cost less. At the same time it would go some way to help staff with living costs. If you work in a non health related private sector industry and you do overtime you are paid up to double time for your work. In the NHS, you get nothing and in some cases worse – abuse.

At the same time, letting the experienced clinical staff go or even making them redundant. This is not going to improve healthcare outcomes. If senior staff have to be cut then lets us start looking at the non-clinical manager at Board level and the salaries of those staff on senior management pay.

We all know that David Cameron will pay the £1.7 billion demanded by the European Parliament, so if he can find £1.7 billion for Europe, why is it he cannot find £750 million to meet the pay review body’s recommendation for nurses and other NHS staff? George Osbourne said the pay rise was affordable. Could it be after all Mr Cameron’s rhetoric about the NHS the reality is his party does not want a National Health Service free at the point of delivery paid for by taxation? He would rather a privatised service where your health is bought and sold on an open market.

I leave you with these two questions and ask you on behalf of all the nurses, midwives and other NHS staff to start lobbying not only your MPs but also the prospective parliamentary candidates. Those working in the NHS need the support of the public and for the public to remind the politicians that the NHS founded by the 1946 Act is here to provide health care to all, free at the point of delivery, paid for by taxation.

Sadly, none of the main parties is talking the real talk about the NHS and until they do the NHS is at risk of dying. The NHS is about time and care and both of these cost. Yet the very people who can make the savings – the experienced nurses – are being reduced in number. Whichever way you look at it, the NHS is a political football and politicians should not be allowed to kick around our health.

David is a retired NHS nurse, but is currently the Royal College of Nursing’s Council Member for the East Midlands and is Honorary Treasurer of the RCN. David was also a Lib Dem MP candidate for Lincoln in the past. He has two grown up children and enjoys photography and swimming in his spare time.