The Prime Minister’s plans for the NHS are ‘at risk of being derailed’ by the shortage of nurses, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned.
At the Conservative Party Conference yesterday (October 4), Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised ‘to set the NHS up for the next 75 years’, highlighting the first ever long-term workforce plan for the NHS, which includes doubling the number of students training to be nurses and doctors.
‘I want to give the NHS the staff it needs,’ Mr Sunak said. ‘For decades, we have not trained enough doctors and nurses. The result: the NHS either hiring staff from abroad or paying temporary agency workers huge fees.’ He vowed to end that.
‘It says everything about the short-termism of our politics that, for the last 75 years, not a single government has planned for how many doctors and nurses the NHS will need in the decades ahead,’ Mr Sunak said. ‘Our plan doubles the number of students training to be doctors and nurses.’
He said it is also a ‘reform plan’, with new ways of training, new roles and new ways of working ‘all driving up productivity’.
However, RCN’s chief nurse, Professor Nicola Ranger, warned that ‘the Prime Minister’s plans for the NHS are at risk of being derailed by the nurse shortage he is still not addressing’.
‘Nurses need to become a priority for government investment if the Prime Minister hopes to turn around the record number of unfilled nurse jobs,’ she urged, calling for action to recruit and retain more staff.
Nurses are ‘stretched so thin, caring for 10, 15 or more patients each shift,’ Professor Ranger highlighted, warning that ‘it’s not safe’.
Mr Sunak referred to ‘record resources’ being put into the NHS and social care, and called the government ‘reasonable’, having negotiated and reached pay deals with over a million NHS workers, including nurses and hospital porters.
However, Professor Ranger said nurses will be ‘questioning why they are being left out of the bonus scheme now being offered to others,’ after being given ‘the worst pay deal in the public sector’.
Teachers, for instance, have been promised ‘special bonuses’ of up to £30,000 tax free, over the first five years of their career.
Meanwhile, in a bid to ‘tackle the single biggest entirely preventable cause of ill-health, disability and death,’ Mr Sunak has proposed raising the smoking age by one year, every year, adding that the move could cut cancer deaths by a quarter and ‘significantly reduce long-term pressure on our NHS’.
‘To ease the more fundamental burden of demand on the NHS, we need more preventative care to stop people having to go to hospital in the first place,’ he explained.
Confirming the Conservative Party’s ‘immovable’ commitment to the principle of an NHS free at the point of use, he said the NHS ‘is the birth right of every person in this country’.
Mr Sunak continued: ‘This year we celebrate 75 years of [the NHS] and one of my abiding aims as your Prime Minister is to set the NHS up for the next 75.
‘True believers in the promise of the NHS want it to reflect the world we live in today. That means a higher quality service that offers the patient more choice, allowing [them] to use any provider, independent or NHS, free of charge, if that will get [them] treated quicker.
‘We must make changes that will enable the NHS to work as productively as the best healthcare systems anywhere in the world.’
Calling for action, Professor Ranger said nursing staff and patients ‘deserve better than missed targets and short-sighted rhetoric’.
In June, a snapshot survey by the union Unite revealed that more than half of nurses working in the NHS in England have warned staff shortages have left patient care ‘compromised and unsafe’ within the last year.
In the summer it was revealed that NHS nurse vacancies remained above 40,000 in England, while concerns have also been raised around the lack of growth in general practice nurse numbers.