Janet Davies addressed Congress today as the event’s first keynote speaker. Looking back over the past year, she opened by saying that it had been one of the busiest of the RCN’s long history and one for which members had “an awful lot to be proud of”.
But reflecting on the devastating accounts of nurses stretched to the limit, she stressed that something must be done to address staffing levels.
“The care we’re able to provide is totally compromised by short staffing. The current shortages are not only dangerous but a vicious circle too,” she said.
“Good nurses do not want to do a bad job. We must stop this.”
She announced that the RCN would be launching a campaign this autumn to demand safe staffing levels and accountability set in law for every part of the UK.
The campaign will be informed by experts from across the UK with the aim to extend existing laws and introduce new ones where needed.
The current shortages are not only dangerous but a vicious circle too
She considered the successful introduction of legislation in Wales, which in 2016 became the first country in Europe to introduce safe staffing laws for nursing – a “testament to the work of RCN members and staff in Wales.”
In Scotland, members and staff have been working with the Government there to draft a Bill that will be presented to the Scottish Parliament in the coming months and the RCN will be campaigning there all over the summer.
However, Janet made it very clear that it is something the RCN is adamant to see happen across all four countries: “We need legislation in every country to empower nurses, contribute to safer care and better clinical outcomes for our patients and to support a nursing workforce fit for the future.”
Janet then went on to reflect on the fact that previously, when faced with staffing shortages, the NHS has depended on nursing staff from around the world who were invited to bring their skill to care for patients here.
However, with the unstable times of Brexit and overseas nurses’ surcharges, we are at risk of “haemorrhaging even more expertise.”
Commenting on the recent scandal of the Windrush generation, many of whom have been living in the UK and working tirelessly for the NHS for many years, Janet was clear in how it was nothing but “shocking and embarrassing to see Britain being heartless, divisive and plain old nasty.”
She continued to say: “We are proud as a profession to have the best and brightest from over 200 countries around the world.
“We must never forget what our colleagues have done for us – we could never have managed without them, and we continue to depend on them.”
An emotive story of one particular colleague followed. Eva Omondi, who came to the UK from Kenya was later asked to pay for any “possible” NHS services her or her family might need, resulting in her having to send her children back to Kenya without her.
Members of Congress were evidently shocked and saddened to hear about this treatment of a respected colleague, and joined Janet in her disgust as she concluded: “These people who keep the NHS running are the very last people who should ever be sent invoices for health care.
“Government, get your priorities in order.”
Another pertinent topic was the recent NHS pay deal offer for England, the consultation for which is open for members to vote on until 5 June. Janet reflected on the fact that this time last year, the pay cap was still firmly in place and “breaking free of the Chancellor’s iron grip felt like a huge mountain to climb.”
With her speech preceded by an emergency debate discussing the pay deal in which many expressed concern over the terms, Janet reiterated that while the deal doesn’t rewrite history, it does equate to the highest rise in a decade.
She reminded attendees that the cap had indeed been scrapped and that this was a fully-funded deal that included the higher starting salaries desperately needed to make the profession more attractive to the next generation of nurses.
However, the concluding sentiment was that it was now over to the membership to have their say as she urged all members to make their voice heard by voting.
“We’re listening,” she stressed.
She finished with a strong statement recognising the value of Congress and how important the debates and events would be in shaping the year ahead.
“Nursing is a proud, powerful, innovative profession; the best profession in the world," she said. "It’s far from easy but the difference you all make to people’s lives every day is inspiring.
“But it is only possible if you are valued, recognised and supported. So the messages that come from this hall this week must not be ignored.”