THE Royal College of Nursing yesterday slammed government cuts over the NHS staffing crisis.
Janet Davies, RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary said: ‘The RCN warned that cutting workforce numbers to fund the NHS reorganisation and to find the efficiency savings was the wrong course to take. Decisions were taken for financial reasons and nurse staffing lost out in the process.
‘When a ward or a community team does not have enough nurses, it can be harder to meet the needs of patients, harder to recognise deterioration and harder to manage conditions in the long term. It doesn’t take much to tip services over the edge, and the NHS could be very vulnerable to a bad winter and any extra pressures.
‘Nurses are committed to their patients and will continue to grapple with increased demand, heavy workloads and extra hours to provide the best care they possibly can. But if the NHS has a chance of keeping up with demand it needs to think clearly about how it retains, incentivises and values its hardworking staff.’
The RCN was responding to a recent article by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) identified that 207 of the 225 acute hospitals in England have reported shortages of nursing staff. The data that appeared in the HSJ article was collected from monthly reports filed by NHS hospitals in August.
In a report published last Friday, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee recognised the ongoing nursing shortage in the UK, saying that the Tier 2 cap on immigration is not working as intended.
The report suggests that the cap, which applies to posts earning above £20,800, may be counter-productive to both net migration and the economy. The cap was introduced under the coalition government in 2011 in order to deliver the government’s objective of reducing net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’.
In October this year, the RCN successfully campaigned for nursing to be temporarily placed on the Shortage Occupation List, meaning the profession was exempt from the Tier 2 cap. The RCN had warned that the cap would force lower-earning nurses from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to return home, exacerbating the shortage of nurses in the UK.
The RCN predicted that the rule change would affect up to 3,365 nurses who cost NHS Trusts over £20 million to recruit. RCN leader Davies said: ‘Since the RCN first raised this issue and lobbied for a change to the immigration rules, a consensus has formed across the health service that cutting the supply of overseas nurses risks patient care. The health service must now have a long-term workforce strategy to ensure the UK has enough nurses to cope with rising demand now and in the future. Anything less would be failing patients.’
• Student nurses are up in arms over government plans to scrap student bursaries and the RCN has announced that on Saturday 9 January 2016 RCN students and other healthcare undergraduates will march on Westminster to demand no scrapping of bursaries.
The plans, announced during Chancellor George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review last month, will see bursaries for nursing students and other healthcare undergraduate professions replaced with loans.
Since the announcement was made, over 145,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the government to retain the NHS bursary. Parliament will debate the petition on Monday 11 January, shortly after the march in central London. The march will begin at 12pm from St Thomas Hospital at Westminster Bridge, and will conclude at Downing Street.