This week marked two years since the first COVID-19 lockdown. Nursing staff have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and I know COVID continues to impact your working lives today. We have seen COVID cases rising across the UK this month with Scotland seeing the sharpest rise in cases – with rising numbers of people being admitted to hospital as well as increasing numbers of staff being absent with COVID-related issues. Apart from the peak in early January this year, staff absence in Scotland is at a higher level than at any time in the preceding 12 months. Remember, you can continue to access help and support on our website.
On Wednesday the Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered the Spring Statement. Ahead of this, we had called for nursing staff to be compensated for soaring fuel costs, warning that otherwise patient care would suffer. Unfortunately, the measures set out in the Spring Statement on fuel are not enough to cover the costs you face when travelling to deliver care. We will continue to call for immediate additional payments and an urgent review of fuel rates.
Members have been in touch with me about the very real financial issues you are facing, right across the UK, due to the cost of living crisis. It is unfair for you to be out of pocket for doing your job or being forced to make heart-breaking choices about filling up your car, paying household bills or buying food for your family.
This is why governments and employers must address soaring living costs by awarding nursing staff fair pay, wherever you work. On Tuesday, our members and staff from England, Wales and Northern Ireland gave oral evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB), which is advising governments on Agenda for Change pay, terms and conditions for staff in these UK countries. We stressed the urgent need for a pay rise of 5% above inflation to stop nursing staff feeling they have no choice but to leave the profession. In the midst of a nursing workforce crisis, every one of our nursing staff should be properly valued so patients get the care they deserve. Ministers and employers across health and care must make the right choice for nursing staff and our patients.
Our members on the Isle of Man recently voted to reject their pay offer from Manx Care - 71.5% of eligible RCN members responded to the ballot and of those, 77% said a 4% pay offer was unacceptable with 23% saying it was acceptable. And in Northern Ireland, our Board met this week to discuss the outcome of our recent pay ballot. Thank you to members who took the time to vote in these ballots – we will keep members updated on the next steps based on what you have told us.
We continue to lobby for staffing for safe and effective care across the UK. Thank you to all members who have supported colleagues in Wales and added your name to our #ForTheFullTeam petition to extend section 25B of the Nurse Staffing Levels Act (Wales) 2016 If you haven’t done so already, please do sign and share with others and help us reach 10,000 signatures. We will also be seeking to influence MSs this week at the Senedd Cross Party Group on Nursing & Midwifery chaired by Jenny Rathbone MS. Our members will be sharing their views on the challenges and opportunities faced by the health visiting workforce.
In Northern Ireland, we recently met with Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Health members Pam Cameron and Deborah Erskine to discuss current nursing workforce issues, including safe staffing, pay, transformation and the unsustainable pressures facing nursing staff in Northern Ireland. This week, elected members and staff will be presenting oral evidence to the Committee on these important issues.
And in England, the Health and Care Bill continues its passage through Parliament and returns to the House of Commons next week. This is a once in a generation opportunity to change the law. We are asking you, your families, colleagues and friends to email your MPs to ask them to support our calls to amend the bill and secure crucial changes which will address the nursing workforce crisis and protect patients. Help us make sure the voice of nursing is heard.
On Wednesday I met with the Minister for Primary Care and Patient Safety, Maria Caufield MP who is herself a Cancer Nurse Specialist. We discussed the primary and community care workforce and I raised that these nursing specialisms need more focus and more recognition from the UK Government - particularly around workforce shortages and the need for parity of pay, terms and conditions with Agenda for Change contracts in these important areas of nursing.
Finally, our survey asking you about staffing levels on your last shift closes at 11pm on Sunday. If you haven’t already, please complete the survey and help us make the case with governments and policy makers across the UK on the urgent need for investment in the nursing workforce and how that would ensure safer patient care.