This week, Chair of Council Dave Dawes and I met with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. We urged more action to tackle the nursing workforce crisis – we know with tens of thousands of vacancies in the NHS in England alone, the chronic workforce shortage poses a risk to the safety of our patients.
We raised that the forthcoming Health and Social Care Integration bill provides an important opportunity to address this by making population and service-based workforce assessments public and putting accountability in law for the provision of staffing in England to lie with the Secretary of State. And we discussed how in the short term, a significant pay rise would help retain experienced nursing staff whom health services can’t afford to lose with this challenge ahead.
Our important meeting was held the day after the Health and Social Care Select Committee published a new report which identified that workforce burnout across the NHS and social care in England has reached an emergency level and poses a risk to the future of both services. We had submitted both oral and written evidence to the committee and stressed the link between staff shortages, nurse burnout and patient outcomes.
All of you working in health and social care services across the UK know we are at a critical juncture. The unprecedented demand on you during the pandemic has had a huge impact on your wellbeing. And only with significant change to workforce strategy and planning in each country of the UK, with legal duties, and investment in nursing will governments prevent more nursing staff ‘burning out’ or leaving the profession entirely, by boosting recruitment and retention.
We’ve been clear in our expectations for employers and the government as they plan to return to ‘normal’ service that the mental wellbeing of staff must be considered and you must be provided with mental health support after the pandemic too. That message was amplified this week when we joined the ‘One Voice’ coalition of organisations insisting that the physical and mental wellbeing of staff must be of equal priority to employers to that of patients.
I will continue to keep nursing issues high on the agenda with parliamentarians and policy makers over the coming weeks. And as Matt Hancock said at yesterday's joint Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Tech Select Committee evidence session that there was no national shortage of PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic, an issue we continue to raise on behalf of members at the highest levels, it shows we still have much to do in getting accountability for the safety on nursing staff during COVID-19 onto the government’s agenda.
And you will also have the chance to have your say on the issues that matter most to nursing in September when we host our first ‘hybrid’ style Congress. This year, for the first time ever, you will be able to take part in the debates wherever you are in the UK and share your views on important issues we face – and how you want the RCN to respond to them. Please save the date – 18 to 20 September – and find out more about the debates.