In her first ministerial speech since joining the Department for Health and Social Care, Jo Churchill, under-secretary of state for health, indicated that she is open to listening to the plight of the community nurse, whose work she noted goes ‘unnoticed’.
Ms Churchill spoke to nurses at the Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) annual conference, agreeing to hear their concerns and committing to meeting with nursing leaders, including the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) chief executive and general secretary, Professor Dame Donna Kinnair.
‘Much of the great work done in the community goes unnoticed. Hopefully we have heard you… Central to the conversation about the NHS is the understanding that to meet the demands of that ageing population we need to place more focus on the care provided in the community and not just fixate on the performance of big hospitals,’ she said.
On the removal of the student bursary, which is always high on nurses’ agenda, Ms Churchill maintained that the true impact will not be seen until 2020 and chose to focus instead on the newer routes to becoming a nurse and the problems in the shortage in certain categories of nursing.
‘The doing away with the bursary happened in 2017 and the true impact won’t be seen until next year and at the same time they are bringing in apprenticeship routes and various other routes. Like most things, the evidence is that there are more nurses going into training, but we have colossal gaps across the system – we are talking of 21,000 mental health nurses,’ she said.
Ms Churchill also expressed worry about nurses failing to return to the workforce and the profession being unable to retain its staff, acknowledging that the powers that be are ‘just not getting it right’.
‘I do think that if not the bursary, we need to look at creative ways in which a mother who decides post-children that she wants to go back into nursing [can do so]. Also, when you look at the nurses who have been trained, what are we doing that is so very wrong that snuffs out the love of the profession to a point where we lose people? How can we be better enabled to go out after a break for whatever reason and say come back in, this is why we need you, this is why we value you… We are just not getting it right,’ she stated.
Finally, she indicated that over the next three years ‘all staff working in the community will have access to mobile digital services, allowing them to spend more time with the patient and digital equipment that actually works’ which has been raised as a key issue preventing community nurses to operate with efficiency.
Ms Churchill, who took up the post of minister for primary care, prevention and public health last month (August) is the third person to hold this post in six months.