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"Reckless" policies leave NHS short of senior nurses

A “reckless policy” has left the NHS with almost 4,000 fewer senior nursing posts than 2010, a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) report has claimed. 

According to the new report, the policy has drained valuable leadership, experience and specialist knowledge from the health service.

In More than just a number, the RCN warns that the health service has been treating staff with years of experience as 'disposable' and a quick way to save money, which means specialist clinical knowledge and leadership is being lost. 

The report also reveals 'downbanding' as a way the NHS is attempting to save money. This is the process of forcing senior staff into lower pay grades. The RCN believes this measure sends a message that experience and leadership is not valued in the NHS. 

There are 3,994 fewer full time equivalent (FTE) nursing staff working in senior positions (bands 7 and 8) than in April 2010. Staff working at these bands include ward sisters, community matrons, clinical nurse specialists and advanced nurse practitioners.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the RCN said: “Senior nurses are ideally placed to act as a bridge between frontline staff and management, enabling resources to be used where they are most needed.

“In the community, senior and specialist nurses often work with a great deal of autonomy and are often solely responsible for patients. It is these patients who are affected when these posts are removed.

“Just as worrying is the loss of specialist clinical skills and experience which is inevitable when so many band 7 and 8 nursing posts are cut and left vacant. As more patients require complex care from specialist nurses, letting so many years of skills and experience vanish from the NHS is an utterly reckless policy.

He added: “We need to be doing everything we can to retain the skills we have in the NHS rather than using them as a quick and easy way to make savings. These cuts are a short-term attempt by trusts to find efficiency savings, yet they will lead to a very serious and very long-term crisis in our health service.”

Dean Royles, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said: "Cash is flat, demand is rising, the way we care for people is changing and other professions like physiotherapists, dieticians, scientists and occupational therapists play a huge and often under-appreciated part in delivering quality care. Local nurse managers and their employers are doing a remarkable job in challenging circumstances and developing new models of care.

“Developments like day case surgery, endoscopy suites, patient hotels and growth in the number of doctors inevitably lead to a different skill mix. Judging the quality of care by the numbers of one particular staff group may be attractive to a nursing trade union but we also need to have a look at what skill mix gets the best outcomes for the patients. That's the sophisticated debate we need to be having.”