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By Andy Mitchell CBE, Tideway CEO
Press releases

Parties at conference must show bold commitment to nursing staff and their patients

4 min read

The staffing crisis in the NHS and social care is no secret: across the UK staff shortages are hampering the ability of dedicated nursing staff to deliver the care patients deserve.

Our patients are suffering and as a consequence, their safety is being compromised both in hospitals and the community. Waiting lists continue to grow. With conference season having started and the next general election looming, politicians need to start listening to our over half a million members to resolve this crisis. This begins with introducing and implementing safe staffing legislation, paying staff fairly, abolishing nursing student tuition fees in England, and repealing anti-strike legislation.

With one in 10 nursing posts vacant in the NHS in England alone, patient safety is at risk. In England, there has been no commitment to introduce any form of safe staffing standards. We know that leaving the onus on employers is not working and guidelines are not sufficient, with more than eight in 10 nurses reporting there were not enough staff to meet the needs of patients on their last shift. Delivering safe staffing legislation and making ministers accountable in law for nursing workforce planning and supply is vital to ensure the long-term sustainability of our profession across the UK.

However, the UK government has only tried to tackle staffing levels on strike days and refused to accept that the NHS is in crisis every day. The Strikes Act allows nurses to be sacked for taking otherwise lawful strike action. Nursing staff went on strike not just for pay but because of their concerns for patient safety. Nursing staff will never turn their backs on patients, and they should not be penalised for standing up for the communities they serve. Our members want this Act repealed.

If patients are to be protected with a safely staffed nursing profession, recruitment and retention must improve. Nursing staff are leaving the profession in droves, often because the stress and demands of the job do not match their current pay levels. Whichever rosette the next government wears, it must improve nursing pay to meaningfully attract new staff to the profession and fairly pay those experienced staff we already have. This means a fair pay rise for all NHS Agenda for Change staff and ensuring nursing staff working in the independent sector receive at least parity in pay, terms, and conditions. 

Whichever rosette the next government wears, it must improve nursing pay to meaningfully attract new staff to the profession and fairly pay those experienced staff we already have

The long-awaited NHS workforce plan was meant to address the deep-rooted challenges in recruiting and retaining nursing staff. But in a matter of weeks, we are already concerned that it is drifting off course. The most recent UCAS data shows a 12 per cent decrease in the number of students accepted onto nursing courses for this academic year. The tide of falling nursing student numbers must be turned. All parties must commit to making it easier to become a nursing student by abolishing self-funded tuition fees for nursing and other health care students in England, as well as introducing a universal, living maintenance grant reflective of what students truly need. Our current overreliance on international recruitment to make up the shortfall of nurses is not sustainable and is often to the detriment of vulnerable health care systems elsewhere. Our members need to see improved homegrown training and an ethical international recruitment programme.

Our members believe the future of the NHS and social care system will be defined by whether politicians listen to those who worked on the frontline to protect the public during the pandemic. If you believed they were worth clapping then, then they are also worth listening to now. As your parties meet at conference one last time before the next general election, our members expect you to be bold in your commitments to them and their patients.

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