This week has seen significant political announcements in different parts of the UK on restrictions and guidance on ‘living with COVID’. These moves feel premature. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, restrictions continue to ease – but at a more gradual pace than England, where the UK Government announced this week that Plan B restrictions will be ending next Thursday. We responded to this announcement highlighting our concerns that the situation for health care staff and services is still so precariously balanced, the government cannot rely on the vaccination programme as our only defence against the spread of COVID-19.
Today, myself and the Chair of Council Carol Popplestone met with Health Secretary Sajid Javid MP to reiterate this point. I told him about some of the key workforce issues which prevent nursing staff from delivering the expert care they wish to deliver for their patients and clients. I raised that UK Government policy, such as mandatory vaccinations – which creates inequity for nursing staff in England in comparison to the other UK countries - and the issue around temporary pension abatements add such real risk that nursing staff will leave the profession, only adding to the current pressure you are experiencing.
I also told the Health Secretary of your deep concerns around professional accountability and how the decisions you are having to make weigh heavily on you. We spoke specifically about the unacceptable level of bullying and harassment faced by nursing staff in the workplace by those they work with or care for.
I also met with the four Chief Nursing Officers (CNOs) today where we had very detailed, constructive discussions about a wide range of issues affecting the profession. We are all concerned about the impact of vacancy rates across the countries and the impact of the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of staff. We will continue to work closely with the CNOs across the UK during these very challenging times. Our President, Dr Denise Chaffer, chaired an event co-hosted with the Nursing and Midwifery Council last week on these issues too – read more about the resources and support available to you to keep safe under pressure.
This week, England’s Health and Care Bill continued to be debated in the House of Lords. This includes our calls for legal accountability for workforce planning and funding, as well as our other key priorities. I raised with Mr Javid that without this accountability in law, the nursing workforce crisis can never be meaningfully addressed – and patient care will continue to suffer.
Finally, it was announced yesterday that there will be an additional, non-consolidated one-off payment to the 2021/22 pay award for our members on Agenda for Change terms in Northern Ireland. The overall pay award remains 3% and we will be emailing members with more information. The consultation on 3% pay award remains open – please do have your say.