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‘The bill as it stands will not address nursing workforce shortages’

RCN chief gives evidence to Health and Care Bill committee, insisting the health secretary be made accountable for safe nurse staffing in new legislation passing through parliament.

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RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen told MPs today that the workforce measures in the Health and Care Bill must be strengthened and the Health Secretary made accountable for having enough nursing staff to deliver safe care.    

She told the Health and Care Bill Committee that the proposed legislation for England doesn’t go far enough on accountability for the workforce.  

“The bill as it stands will not address the nursing workforce shortages,” she stressed. “The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care must have full accountability and responsibility, not just for the assessment of workforce planning, but for ensuring the delivery of the workforce as well.  

“We all know about the shortages of nursing staff. We had 40,000 nursing vacancies heading into the pandemic. Nurses make up 26% of the workforce. Everywhere you see a patient, you see a nurse, and we need nurses. That’s the only way to provide the best care for our patients.  

“The government at the highest level must have that accountability and responsibility for the assessment and planning of the workforce in nursing and the provision of that workforce in health and care services.” 

There’s currently insufficient data showing the full extent of staffing shortages across health, public health and social care and there’s no credible workforce strategy to show how patient need will be met.   

For the bill to succeed, the RCN insists nursing leadership must be embedded throughout all health and care structures, including executive or decision-making functions. The bill should also enshrine in legislation the role of the director of nursing in all integrated structures, and the role of senior registered nurses should be recognised when services are reconfigured. 

Pat added: “Staff feel exhausted and demoralised. They are concerned about the future because they don’t have the workforce. There are opportunities in the bill to correct some of these things but ensuring that accountability for provision of workforce sits with the Secretary of State is absolutely vital. A clear way to help improve staff morale is to ensure that parliamentarians act and change this bill, so we don’t find ourselves facing a workforce crisis of this scale ever again.” 

The Health and Care Bill puts forward several reforms to the health and care system in England, but the RCN has demanded that other changes be made to the bill to enable the workforce crisis to be addressed. These include: 

  • the publication every five, 10 and 20 years by the government of the workforce needed to deliver health and social care services based on population need  
  • ensuring a senior nurse sits on the board of the new regional health and social care organisations (called Integrated Care Systems)  
  • ensuring that the commissioning of services is done in partnership with local communities 
  • ensuring that the voices of experts such as royal colleges are part of the regulation of the profession.

In the coming months we’ll work with members to make contact with MPs, campaigning for the reforms to put safe and effective care first by ensuring the government is accountable for recruiting and retaining enough nurses to meet patient demand.