Stop short-changing the public and end staffing crisis, new nursing leader tells Government

Press Release 20/05/2019

The Government must end the desperate shortage of nurses in England by returning the £1 billion it took from nursing education, the UK’s new nursing leader will say today (Monday).

In her first speech to the Royal College of Nursing’s annual conference, which begins today, Chief Executive and General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair will say that the goodwill of nurses is being ‘abused’ as the Government fails to get a grip on reducing England’s 40,000 vacant NHS nurse jobs.

Kinnair will call on Ministers to consider the financial and human cost of leaving the jobs vacant. She will tell an audience of 3,000 members in Liverpool that all health and social care services in England must have safe staffing levels and accountability set in legislation, after Scotland and Wales introduced similar new laws.

As the health service seeks to cope with the shortage, the Government has been accused of ‘quietly dropping’ data from the NHS Choices website for England which revealed the number of nurses and support workers on shift at individual hospitals.

The publication of the data had been seen as an important measure for safety and transparency following the Francis report into care failings and nurse shortages at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust. The information has been replaced by a measure of ‘care hours’ that does not distinguish between care given by Registered Nurses and unregistered support workers despite academic research showing mortality rates rising when the number of registered nurses on a shift drops.

Kinnair, who was appointed as the RCN’s Chief Executive and General Secretary last month and is Britain’s only black female union leader, will use her speech to pledge to “fight” for the nursing profession.

Kinnair will point to the new staffing law in Scotland, which cleared its final parliamentary huddle earlier this month, as evidence of how legislation can be introduced. Scotland is now the second country in the UK to set staffing accountability in law after Wales became the first in Europe to legislate in 2016.

Kinnair will say that without a Government in Northern Ireland staffing shortages combined with low pay levels there represent a ‘public safety issue’. She will ask for public support ahead of a possible ballot on industrial action in the country later this year.

Donna Kinnair will say:

“We will not stop until people are held to account for the desperate shortages each and every one of us has witnessed. Politicians must stop short-changing the public. They must stop the rot and put an end to the workforce crisis in nursing.

“Rather than only looking at the cost of educating and employing nurses, the Government must think about the true cost – financial and human – of not doing it. Employers, decision-makers and Ministers with the power to change things should not let individual nurses take the blame for systemic failings.

“The Government must make people accountable in law for this situation and put back, into nursing higher education, the money it so catastrophically ripped out.

“The goodwill of nursing staff is being abused and politicians must know it is running out. I will not stand by while this profession is denigrated. I’m immensely privileged to take this job and fight for health care assistants, registered nurses and the future of our profession, the students.”

On Brexit, Kinnair will say: 

“No matter your view, this country has got to raise the standard of its political debate. It has been in the gutter for too long. Politicians must resolve this drama and stop letting it dominate politics to the detriment of everything else.”


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