This week, the Department for Health and Social Care published a new white paper on proposed changes to the NHS. As the detail of these proposals takes shape, I will work to ensure nursing leadership is recognised more clearly in integrated health care systems – not just because nursing is the biggest workforce, but because of the skills and expertise nurses bring to meeting the holistic needs of patients.
For years, nursing staff have been kept waiting with the promise of a workforce strategy from ministers and the NHS. And the white paper unfortunately falls short in this regard. The absence of one left health and care services tens of thousands of nurses short when facing a pandemic.
The real impact of this chronic lack of strategy and support really hits home when I hear about another nurse or care worker being lost to this terrible virus. What is particularly frustrating is that we still don’t know how many nursing staff have died because of COVID-19. This was the question I asked the Health Secretary point-blank on Question Time in April last year – and it is a question to which I still haven’t had a satisfactory response. But I won’t stop asking.
Every single death recorded during the pandemic is a sad loss for a family, but when it is a health care worker- nurse, midwife, nursing student or nursing support worker - it is a tragedy that someone has died caring for others.
This is why uptake of the vaccine is so important. Our survey revealed the good news that 85% of respondents had received at least one dose, but that meant 15% hadn’t. Of that group, 70% work in non-NHS settings.
The survey also uncovered that regardless of where you work, more than two in five agency nursing staff and one in four temporary staff had not received a vaccine – compared to just one in eight hospital workers.
As result of our calls on the government to redouble its efforts to reach agency and temporary nursing staff, today it announced that all nursing staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are invited to book an appointment online or by calling 119. Nursing staff in Scotland who haven’t received a vaccine yet should have been informed how to request one locally.
The vaccine is only one part of tackling COVID-19. Proper protection is the other. Nursing staff in all settings – in hospitals, in the community and in care homes – must be given higher level PPE until more is known about the new COVID-19 variants. We will continue to demand this for our members – the government’s silence on this issue is causing a postcode lottery for staff.
Please remember, the RCN is here for you as you continue to work through the pandemic. If you feel unsafe or have any concerns about patient safety or care, we have a model letter on our website to support you to raise those concerns. We also have an online step by step guide on how to raise concerns and if you need further help or support, please contact us.