This site is intended for health professionals only

Retain nurses? We cannot even retain our nurse leaders

Fewer staff, low morale, and now less confidence in our leadership – the reasons to be a nurse is dwindling, writes Marilyn Eveleigh

Fewer staff, low morale, and now less confidence in our leadership – the reasons to be a nurse is dwindling, writes Marilyn Eveleigh 


There are three main bodies that represent us as nurses: the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the health department’s chief nursing officer in each country. And, in England at least, there is uncertainty over who is leading each. 

With a national recruitment drive to mark the NHS’ 70th birthday, nurses have been encouraged to inspire others to enter the profession – but frankly, I’m a bit nervous. Why? Because nursing bears a multitude of pressures that have tarnished the role and hampered recruitment. 

How ironic that nurses are never more needed, yet we have around 40,000 vacancies. Uncertain Brexit status and short-term expensive overseas nurse recruitment have created pressures that burden the loyal and experienced workforce. Who would want to be a nurse now? And why?

Certainly not for the pay. In the past eight years, nurses have had a 14% pay reduction in real terms. Their much-needed pay rise this year has been a shambles, with reports of nurses having less in their pockets through delayed payments and an increase in state contributions. 

Nurses did indeed vote for the pay offer. Yet it emerged that the RCN misled members. So far, the RCN general secretary Janet Davies has apologised and resigned, following an independent review that exposed a lack of communication and bowing to government pressure to accept the deal. It seems even our dedicated representative nursing body and union lacks effective leadership. 

So who is leading nursing at this difficult time? At the moment, only Jane Cummings, the chief nursing officer for England – although only for the next few months. 

In July, the NMC had a leadership change in Jackie Smith, after publication of the Morecambe Bay midwifery care scandal. There was also criticism of the handling of the Fitness to Practise process: it requires more transparency, fewer lengthy, costly formal hearings and a move away from striking off registrants too readily. 

Nursing needs really strong leadership right now.

A stretched workforce under pressure spawns high sickness rates, loss of job satisfaction, more untoward incidents, the risk of being scapegoated in the organisation and poor staff retention. 

I love being a nurse – but would I train to be one now? I’m not sure…