Politicians have to focus on staffing, morale and pay if they want a seven-day NHS, Dr Peter Carter said to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) congress today in Bournemouth.
Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN said if there's one thing politicians have to focus on more than any other it's the recruitment crisis "gripping" the NHS.
While nurses want patients to have safe care regardless of the time or day, cutting unsocial hours allowances for nurses will not get politicians a seven-day NHS, "recruiting the right number of staff and paying them properly" will.
"You will get it by investing in band 5 and 6 nurses now, so that they're ready to take up senior experts roles that are so crucial to senior patient care seven days a week.
"We've heard about the government's plans for seven day care in England, people ask me 'are nurses up for it?' I say 'who do you think keeps this great healthcare service going 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? It's nurses.'"
Carter said: "The nursing shortage is about to get even worse... By 2020 we could be sending away up to 30,000 nurses. Thats not just lost skills, but £178m in recruiting costs. The government must think again and make sure nursing isnt constrained by these illogical rules."
The new pay threshold for migrants, which was announced last week, means non-European workers must leave the UK after six years if they are not earning at least £35,000.
He also spoke about safe staffing levels and the decision to end The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence's (NICE) investigation into safe staffing.
"We are calling on the secretary of state Jeremy Hunt and the chief executive of NHS England Simon Stevens to revisit that decision. NICE is an independent body, with the right expertise to judge how many nursing staff we need to ensure safe patient care, and I haven't heard anyone make a good case for stopping this work," he said.
"There's a simple reason why the agency bill is sky high, and is in danger of bankrupting the health service. It's because their aren't enough nurses in the NHS. Not because people don't want to go into nursing, 37,000 would-be student nurses were turned away last year. It's because people are getting ground down, or simply can't afford to stay in the job.
"More than a third of staff find their jobs so stressful it's made them ill. When we spoke to student nurses over half of them said they were so demoralised they were thinking of working abroad."
This is Carter's ninth and final speech to the RCN congress, before he steps down and Janet Davis takes over his post in August.
Before he left the stage he said that it was an "honour and a privilige" to take on the role of chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, and that nurses have given him "more warmth and encouragement" than he can quantify.
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