Nurses will be central to the NHS’s survival. Marilyn Eveleigh has a list of priorities for the new Government
The June surprise election was widely considered to be about Brexit; Prime Minister Theresa May called it to secure a strong national mandate for future EU negotiations. But for me, and I suspect many others, it was about the NHS and the austerity measures that dominate everyday life and have brought our health service to its knees. Especially nurses.
Nurses hold a special place in the public’s heart. A 2015 survey indicated that 60% of the population felt nursing was the most undervalued of professions.
The public don’t want nurses to be paying hospital parking charges to boost hospital funding. They don’t think nurses should have to resort to food banks to feed themselves and their families. They would be appalled that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) receives eight requests every day for hardship grants. They are as unhappy as we are that nursing pay has decreased by 14% in real terms since 2010. And they don’t think that a ‘strong economy’ should be established at the expense of hard-working nurses.
Politicians need to be in touch with the professionals who help to form the backbone of the NHS, and nurses should help MPs understand the real-life, everyday challenges they face. Nurses come from every social class and live and work in every neighbourhood, whether advantaged, disadvantaged or dangerous. Nurses are an integral part of every community and experience the impact of austerity, rising housing costs and benefit cuts on the population, as well as on themselves. So what should the new Government’s priorities be for the nursing workforce? For me, they are as follows:
- Withdraw the public sector pay restraint that has been in place since 2010. This would indicate that nurses are valued, reversing low morale and compassion fatigue.
- Increase nursing pay, because poor pay blocks recruitment and retention, creating staffing pressures, high sickness rates and threats to services.
- Increase the NHS funding allocation from around 6.3% to 8.7%, nearer that of other EU countries.
- Establish a cross-party long-term stable agreement on health, social care and aging.
- Ring-fence NHS funding. I would agree to a tax increase exclusively for the NHS. If the public experienced the improvement in services and reliability, they might agree, too.
- Ensure staffing levels are safe in all healthcare settings. Legislation could ensure finances never overrule patient safety. What is bad for staff is bad for patients: staff shortages reduce services and threaten the quality and quantity of care.
- Give EU citizens currently living here the right to remain. The UK economy and healthcare sector depend on this workforce.
- Guarantee the education and development of healthcare workers for the long term, through a mix of bursaries, loans, incentives or sponsorships.
So this is a plea to our new leaders. Nurses are tired, under pressure and demoralised. We have been a political football played by every party over the years but we are a vast workforce. There are over 680,000 of us making nurses a powerful band of allies if you treat us well. It’s up to you.
If you would like to send these recommendations to your MP, visit nursinginpractice.com/article/mp-letter.