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We urgently need a national nursing workforce plan


Action must be taken to support the nursing workforce, in terms of planning, pay and recognition at this crucial time, says Marilyn Eveleigh

Nursing has been pivotal in fighting Covid-19, and I’m proud to have played my part in the historic battle against a global pandemic. The rallying call to run services, support colleagues and safeguard patients was answered by nurses in every discipline: we were redeployed, retrained and reinvigorated to fulfil the professional role we were trained for. 

Around 15,000 nurses whose registration had lapsed returned to practice via a temporary NMC register, created to attract nurses back and simplify the recruitment of international nurses. Many nurses delayed, or returned from, retirement, taking on new skills and challenges, contributing to the Dunkirk spirit that prevailed. 

The feelgood factor was evident within health and social care services and in the appreciation of the public – remember the ‘clap for carers’ at 8pm each Thursday, skipping supermarket queues and generous retailers’ discounts?

What does the nursing world look like now, as that warm glow rapidly cools?

Before the pandemic, we already had 40,000 NHS nursing vacancies, with a significant shortage in primary care. It is worse now. Globally, there is a huge nursing shortage.

How many of the 15,000 nurses on the temporary NMC register, who may have a  limited period in which to move back to the permanent register, will stay on board? Their departure would be a significant loss. Those nurses who put off retirement will now actually retire. More losses. Yet many might stay if offered more flexible working arrangements to support a better work-life balance.

Before and during the pandemic there were reports of poor morale, exhaustion and burnout due to high vacancy rates, absences and increased workloads. Many nurses feel overworked and undervalued,  toiling in chaotic, disjointed systems.  Twelve-hour shifts and the inability to give the care we aspire to will not entice nurses to remain: 400 NHS staff are leaving every week. For general practice nurses, reconfiguring priorities, access and clinics while facing a major backlog of patient reviews would be daunting and risky, even without the staffing shortage.  

The UK has a dire workforce crisis and, despite the heroic frontline efforts, it’s getting worse with no robust plan to address it. There are not enough clinicians to cover the pandemic backlog as well as routine care and new digital services. 

The Government’s promise to recruit 10,000 overseas nurses in England by April 2022 is short-termist, short-sighted and unethical. We need to grow our own. We urgently need a national nursing workforce plan.

Nursing has been identified as one of the most undervalued, underpaid professions, and recent indications from ministers of a 3% pay offer will not be welcome, with inflation at 5.5% and higher NHS pension contributions due from October. 

The Government’s suggestion that a higher award would mean less funding to address recruitment and the backlog shocks me. On the contrary, paying nurses fairly will improve staffing, boost efficiency and increase patient safety. This is what the public wants and deserves. It is what nurses want, and deserve. 

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