The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has criticised the government’s ‘dismissive’ response to concerns raised by members around safe staffing levels.
Peers discussed the pressures nurses are facing in the House of Lords last week (16 June), prompted by an RCN survey in which eight in 10 (83%) nurses said the staffing levels on their last shift were not sufficient to meet patient needs.
Baroness Merron of Lincoln called the findings relating to patient safety ‘beyond concerning’; while Baroness Brinton of Kenardington said the report made ‘harrowing and concerning’ reading.
RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen criticised the government minister responding to the debate, Lord Kamall, who she said was ‘too dismissive of the concerns being raised by our members’.
Following the debate, Lord Kamall said that ‘although there are some [points] that we [the government] accept and are working hard to address, there may be other areas that we question’.
He said: ‘There is no single ratio or formula that can calculate the answer as to what represents safe staffing. It will differ within an organisation, and reaching the right mix requires the use of evidence-based tools, the exercising of professional judgment and a multi-professional approach. In England, the responsibility for staffing levels sits with clinical and other leaders at a local level.
‘Providers should ensure that there are sufficient numbers of suitably qualified, competent, skilled and experienced staff to meet the needs of the people using the service at all times. Staff should also receive the support, training, professional development, supervision and appraisals that are necessary for them to carry out their roles and responsibilities.’
He said that the Government was ‘well on its way’ to achieving a 50,000 increase in the nursing workforce – although leaked data reported by The Independent has suggested the NHS will miss this target. Meanwhile, more than 25,000 registered nurses left the register last year alone.
Lord Kamall said that there was a record number of acceptances for nursing university places in 2021; and that the review of the long-term strategic framework for the health and regulated social care workforce was ‘nearing its final stages’ and would be published before the summer recess, with NHS England’s 15-year workforce plan expected ‘in due course’. He added that the ‘distinct lack of diversity’ at the top layers of NHS management ‘needed to be addressed’.
Ms Cullen said: ‘The debate must come back to the House of Commons so that MPs have the opportunity to recognise the expertise of the nursing profession, to raise concerns and ensure that the urgently needed solutions detailed in our report are heard by the UK government.
‘Ministers need to invest in the nursing workforce, which includes giving a fair pay rise, to retain staff and attract the new joiners urgently needed to ease the pressure of the workforce crisis and to keep patients safe.’
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson has previously said that staff shortages are now ‘very clearly’ impacting care and the RCN has called for a pay rise at 5% above inflation for NHS staff on Agenda for Change (AfC) contracts in 2022/23.