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Who wants to be a nurse?

Marilyn Eveleigh
Consultant Editor

Among the numerous friends of my late teenage children, only one has chosen a nursing career. Even though my kids have lived through, and benefited from my very varied and successful nursing career, they shun any suggestion that they might consider it for themselves. I talk of the "opportunities", "a respected profession" and "the satisfaction of working to help others" - they talk of "low pay", "working shifts" and "no jobs after all that training".
How can such innocents hold such strong views?  Perhaps having so many nursing friends and colleagues, our issues and moans have insidiously sunk in over time. Many have felt the pressures of workload and staff shortages, the stress of more NHS reorganisation, redundancy and dissatisfaction with pay awards - and families like mine no doubt absorb the anxiety this brings.
My children also hear the media messages and note the headlines in the professional journals that litter the house - and they use it as ammunition as to why young people like them don't/won't go into nursing. ''Thousands of nurses still seek jobs months after qualifying'' (front page of Daily Telegraph 6 July 2007) did start a discussion on the point of having a "respected qualification". Then their cash allowance rise was fleetingly under threat because my national pay increase is to come in two stages (it only momentarily crossed my mind: I couldn't justify it after their reasoned arguments - Alan Johnson, new Health Secretary, please note!).
I don't think I'm a bad mum or a poor role model for the profession, but sometimes I have difficulties explaining and articulating the apparent contradictions nursing finds itself in of late.
Take the DH admission that since qualifying in May and September 2006, almost 4,000 nurses have not been able to secure a post. These nurses can't consolidate their skills and commitment and the expense of their training wastes taxpayers' money. Yet patients cite the shortage of nurses on wards.
Again, how do I explain when nurses complain of being overstretched and teams are understaffed - yet vacant posts are still frozen? We are told it was to balance the predicted NHS overspend that turned out to be a £510m surplus. The RCN estimates that over 22,000 posts have been lost from the NHS since April 2006, having a knock-on effect on capacity and morale. 
I remember when the last Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, called for 3,000 more midwives - yet 20% of newly-qualified midwives failed to find work last year.

Big spend on temporary staff
Here is another anomaly: the NHS Plan outlined a growth in the nursing workforce and indeed 55,000 new nurses were recruited between 2000 and 2005 - yet the spend on temporary agency staff also increased. A commons public accounts committee has highlighted that the high use of agency staff by the NHS requires urgent attention. Their report outlines the high cost of agency hourly rates, wide variations of agency use across trusts, as well as the negative impact on patient care and satisfaction. The irony of spend on temporary staff when permanent posts are being cut needs a fundamental and urgent review of workforce planning.
Maybe it's happening already - NHS Careers is launching a recruitment drive aimed at 14-19-year-olds encouraging them into the nursing profession by outlining how they can have a positive impact on the NHS in the future. I'm going to direct potential recruits to www.stepintothenhs.nhs.uk and hope it gives a different perspective to overcome some present harsh realities. Maybe it can do better than I to outline the real joy of nursing.
For now, I'm hoping the NHS review by the new Health Minister, Professor Ara Darzi, through "engagement and consultation with NHS staff up and down the country", will go some way to balance negative headlines and boost the commitment and morale of existing staff. We are the best recruitment tool the NHS has!