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Nursing leader explains future of safe staffing, RCN responds

NHS England published an open letter from chief nursing officer Jane Cummings, in which she said there must be a “new approach” to safe staffing, working arrangements, and across-the-board plans.

“We need to find a new approach to testing what is right, which includes looking at what evidence exists, commissioning new research and national and international best practice. I believe if we use these principles it will guide us in our planned next steps,” she said.

She highlighted a need for better career progression for non-registered staff, and a focus on nurse retention and flexible working. She recommended that the new plans take into account all the staff involved, not just nurses, as “getting the right mix of staff in these multi-disciplinary teams is vital”.

She also said that since care settings vary and span organisational boundaries, it would be “inappropriate” to roll out one specific staffing structure to multiple institutions and job roles. “There will be no identikit approach to the mix of staff we need.

“We must remember that this is not just about filling rotas or looking only at numbers or input measures. It is also about how much time nurses spend with or supporting patients, their families and carers and what the outcomes for those people are,” she said.

In response to Cummings' letter, Dr Peter Carter, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief executive and general secretary said: “The chief nursing officer is right to highlight the importance of wider teams and the challenges of working across different settings. Most importantly, there must be further reassurance that this work will be truly independent and free from the influence of shrinking budgets.

“Focusing on the wider team will not change the fact that diluting the number of nurses, especially experienced nurses, is bad for patient care. Any potential risk to patient safety is extremely serious and the RCN will work to ensure that safe staffing remains at the top of the Government's health priorities,” he said.