We know from official figures now being published as part of the winter monitoring of NHS services that hospitals in our region are showing signs of strain. Many hospitals in recent weeks have reported few – if any – empty beds. Experts recommend that no more than 85% of beds should be occupied, in order to carry out proper infection control procedures between patients and leave some slack in the system for emergencies. Having so few free beds also means it is much more difficult to admit patients to the right ward for their condition.
We know our members are working in these very challenging circumstances, battling to provide the best possible care for patients when everything seems to be against them. It is important that you look after yourselves so you can look after others and I would urge you to contact the RCN in cases where you might need assistance to help you continue the vital work you do, not just in winter but every day of the year.
Many of the problems being experienced by health services can be clearly linked to staff shortages which we know have been made worse by the years of pay restraint nursing staff have suffered. Our Scrap the Cap campaign this year led to a promise by the Health Secretary that the cap limiting pay rises to 1% would be lifted. But this is some way from where we would like to be – a meaningful pay award for nursing staff. We must wait to see if the pay review body agrees. You cannot continue to put up with the year-on-year erosion in pay you have endured, adding up to a 14% pay cut in real terms since 2010. More and more nursing staff are struggling to pay their bills or even to put food on the table for their families.
Increased pay is vital so that existing staff stay, and the health service is able to begin to fill the thousands of nursing vacancies we know exist in our region. There are still hurdles to come. The link between pay and productivity that has been raised by politicians remains a concern. The NHS would grind to a halt without all the extra hours that you already work and nursing staff should not be expected to, in effect, fund their own pay rise.
We will continue to fight for the fair pay rise that is not only vital for nursing staff, but also for patients and the NHS as a whole. We hope we can count on your continued support in 2018. I wish you all a happy Christmas and New Year and thank you on behalf of patients for all that you do.