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Three quarters of people don’t think the NHS has enough nurses

Reading time: 3 mins, 2 secs

First4Lawyers, May 18, 2018

A survey of 1,600 people, carried out by YouGov for the Royal College of Nursing, has found that 74% of people are concerned about current staffing levels of nurses in the NHS.

The latest figures on staffing in England show that one in nine posts are vacant. In addition, recent research by academics has found that nursing shortages are costing NHS trusts an estimated £2.4 billion per year as they are forced to fill vacant nursing positions with more costly agency staff.

Currently there are 38,000 British nursing job vacancies. The Open University claims these could be filled three times over with the money being spent on agency nurses. The money would also cover the salaries of 108,500 newly qualified nurses.

If they are willing to spend this sum on agency nurses, it would appear that the shortage is not a monetary issue. However, despite this, money does appear to be the root cause.

RCN blames lack of pay rises

The Royal College of Nursing says that staffing levels are ‘inevitable’ given the ‘short-sighted’ cost-cutting that the NHS has seen in recent years. They add that the reason growing numbers of nurses are leaving the profession is that training opportunities are restricted, and pay has been either capped or frozen for the past eight years. This gives no opportunity for career growth and wages do not match the rate of inflation, as a result many leave the NHS.

The RCN says that the current situation is dangerous, and their general secretary Janet Davies says: "This is a failure of politicians and policymakers - with an inability to recognise the value of nursing, an unwillingness to listen to those of you who are working in the service and a lack of political will to address it.

"The current shortages are not only dangerous, but a vicious circle too. Poor staffing levels are the number-one reason for working-age nurses leaving the register. Good nurses do not want to do a bad job."

Ministers have offered nurses a pay increase of a minimum 6.5% over three years, which the RCN is asking its members to back. However, they also want the government to introduce safe staffing legislation in England.

In 2016 Wales became the first European country to introduce this legislation, and while Scotland has promised to follow suit, there have been no such promises from England or Northern Ireland.

The RCN says that other problems nurses are currently facing include overworking, leading to patient care being compromised. This is the result of staffing levels, but also due to the overburden of paperwork. Often nurses are not left with any time for breaks or to eat, they say.

In response to a BBC article on the topic, the Department of Health acknowledged that ‘the NHS would collapse without our wonderful nurses’ and said that steps were being taken to recruit more nurses. This includes the aforementioned proposed pay rise, plus a 25% increase in student training places this year, and the introduction of greater flexible working opportunities.

Andrew Cullwick, spokesperson for First4Lawyers, commented: “It is great to see that the government are acknowledging the great work that nurses do for the NHS. However, it seems that not enough is being done to entice nurses to stay in the profession.

If agency workers are costing three times as much as hiring 38,000 nurses, would it not make more sense to pile this money into keeping our current nursing staff? This would reduce the amount of vacancies as fewer people leave and student nurses fill the remaining positions.

We hope that the government consider further help for nurses, and that they will listen to the RCN’s plea for the introduction of safe staffing legislation in England.”

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