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Pay cap has been ‘psychologically damaging’, says RCN chief

The pay cap on public sector pay has been ‘psychologically damaging’ to nurses, according to the head of the Royal College of Nursing.

Chief executive and general secretary, Janet Davies, made the comment during a panel discussion on workforce at the Best Practice show in Birmingham, adding that ‘it's really important that people know they have enough money to live on’.

With more nurses leaving the register than joining it, the profession faced real challenges, she said. Ms Davies highlighted the 40,000 shortfall in nurses and 30,000 who began their training in other EU countries who were concerned about the impact of next year's Brexit.

She said nurses from Spain and Portugal who moved to the UK because of economic problems at home had forged careers as advanced practitioners and ward sisters here, claiming that ‘it would be tragic to lose them’.

She went on to discuss the changes to the language test for entry into nursing for overseas applicants, describing it as ‘a bit of a red herring’.

‘There's one element of the written test that is difficult for everybody. I know the NMC was looking at that – the comprehension, so they're changing it to be specific for health, which makes it much more applicable,’ she explained.

Ms Davies felt that there had been a ‘significant failure in workforce planning’, but that this meant there was ‘room for innovation’ in developing careers for nurses in primary care.

She said: ‘It's really about how do we create an environment that gives you a really long career in primary care, and not just the flexibility of hours. I think it’s got to be about pull rather than push’.

On the issue of the bursary, Ms Davies felt it was too early to tell what the impact of scrapping it would be, but she said that nurses will now all graduate in the summer, rather than staggered at different times throughout the year, and the change will be noticeable this spring.

Speaking on the same panel, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the real challenge in the NHS was the workforce shortfall, rather than finding or the potential imminent winter crisis.

He said: ‘I think we have to start thinking things through in a different way. I think we have been too dependent on recruiting from overseas. Not to say that the value these people are bringing isn't extraordinary, but as a developing country we should be training more.

‘Pay is important but doing good work and being part of a team is also important for nurses, paramedics and doctors. They need to feel valued and not put under too much stress,’ he added.