The Omicron variant has continued to pile pressure on top of pressure. This week, the data from NHS England tells its own story.
This is why we have told the Health Secretary Sajid Javid that to forge ahead with plans to implement a law around mandatory vaccinations for NHS staff in England would be an act of self-sabotage. This also means that NHS staff in England are being treated differently to staff in the other UK countries, leading to a potential lack of clarity and confusion.
The RCN supports the use of vaccines against COVID-19 and the vast majority of health and social care staff have been double vaccinated. Indeed, many of you are at the forefront of the vaccine roll-out. But it is the wrong time to introduce a new law that compromises a workforce already under immense pressure. The government estimates the nursing workforce in England could be reduced by 73,000 NHS staff members if the new law is implemented as planned. You don’t need me to tell you the implications this would have for you and your teams and colleagues, and ultimately, for patient care.
We have also called for health and care workers to be exempt from a reduction of the seven-day self-isolation period following a positive test result. Again, by the government’s own estimate, almost a third of individuals are infectious five days after symptoms start. Health and care workers will fall into that group in large numbers and there can be minimal room for error or complacency, as this change could increase the risk of transmission to other staff and patients. When providing close care, including to those with compromised immune systems, nursing staff must be confident that they are not putting patients at risk.
As part of our ongoing safe staffing work, I met with members of our Professional Nursing Committee and other experts in this field earlier this week to discuss how we work with nursing leaders and academic experts to address the nursing workforce requirements right across the UK. To hear from the leading voices in this area was fantastic and I look forward to sharing more with you soon.
Part of you being safe at work includes employers providing you with the highest grade FFP3 masks as standard. We have written to every UK trust chief executive, urging them to take immediate steps to protect nursing staff as they continue to work in challenging situations and facing issues out of their control such as reduced staffing levels and redeployment.
For more than 700 days now, our profession has led the way in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and every day brings new challenges. I would urge all of you to watch RCN President Denise Chaffer’s webinar alongside the NMC’s Geraldine Walters, which discusses how to keep safe under pressure.
Today, Professor Mark Radford CBE, Chief Nurse at Health Education England, and I presented at a virtual event for General Practice (GP) and primary care staff. GP and primary care nurses have made an incalculable contribution throughout the pandemic, from the vaccination rollout to supporting patients with long-term conditions. They have done this whilst working in extremely challenging circumstances, with significant gaps in workforces and inequitable pay, terms and conditions with NHS colleagues. In addition, nurses in this sector have been the target of misplaced public and government perception and we have seen this manifesting itself in increased levels of violence and aggression against staff. The RCN will continue to represent all GP and primary care nurses on these issues and others including securing funding to support them and their colleagues with professional training and development.
And finally, closer to home for me personally, this week has seen us launch a consultation on pay for members in Northern Ireland working under Agenda for Change terms and conditions. The ballot is asking members working in Health and Social Care if the 3% pay award for 2021-22 announced last year is acceptable or unacceptable. Members in England, Wales and Scotland have already been consulted on their respective pay awards. I encourage every eligible Northern Ireland member to vote, and to encourage their colleagues to do the same. It’s time to have your say on pay.