Guest Blog from the Royal College of Nursing
As we approach the General Election few issues are provoking more debate than the future of the NHS.
Health care is a top priority for almost every voter, from patients and their families to those working in the health care system. Nursing staff make up the majority of the health care workforce and, with approximately 1800 in each constituency, no one can deny that in this election – nursing counts.
The NHS is facing serious crises across the UK and politicians need to listen to nurses if they are to begin solving these issues.
With this in mind, the RCN has launched our manifesto campaign, Nursing Counts, to reflect the priorities of UK nurses, midwives, health visitors and health care support workers, and address what needs to be done if patients are to receive the care they need and deserve.
The manifesto circles three main objectives, the first of which is improving patient care.
Nurses are dedicated to providing the upmost standards of care to their patients but, as with most professions, the right conditions are required for them to perform their roles effectively.
Following significant pressure on NHS funding in recent years, staffing levels have dropped to the point at which nursing staff are stressed, pressured and overworked. Most importantly many staff don’t feel they can provide the care they want to for their patients. A recent review by the BBC found that the number of NHS staff taking time off sick due to stress and mental illness had doubled since 2010, an unsurprising figure given current staff shortages and workload pressures. Nurses also need to feel able to raise concerns when they feel patients are at risk, if we are to improve levels of care, but the NHS has found at least a third feel unable to do so. The new government needs to address these issues if they are to improve the NHS and deliver a health service that has patient care at its heart.
The second objective for the next government is to value nursing. Despite being some of the hardest working staff in the UK, nurses have endured job cuts, pay stagnation and the down-banding of their posts for many years, and morale is at an all-time low. The recent paltry 1% pay increase does not make up for nurses’ tireless commitment to their patients despite an apparent lack of appreciation in political circles. The RCN calls for the country’s next leaders to recognise the value of nursing, in order to improve the working lives of its current nursing staff and to encourage more to join the profession. If nursing is continually run down then we will see less and less people joining the profession and costly recruitment from overseas increasing.
Investing in the health and care systems is the RCN’s third imperative. The large scale cuts the NHS has endured have left many areas bereft, particularly in fields like community nursing. Levels of care in the community must increase if we are to take pressure off our hospitals and primary care settings. With more nurses leaving the profession than entering it, the next government needs to prioritise long-term investment in workforce planning to develop a sustainable structure for 21st century health care.
Following the launch of the manifesto earlier this year, candidates from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour were invited to RCNHQ for a hustings event to debate how they plan to solve the problems facing the nursing profession. At the RCN event, Conservative minister Dr Dan Poulter MP, Liberal Democrat Minister Norman Lamb MP and Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham MP, all pledged their support for the goals RCN manifesto, but disagreed on how they planned to put this into action.
The RCN is concerned that the payments nurses receive for working unsocial hours could be coming under threat by future Governments as a way to save money. When questioned, Andy Burnham committed not to attack the current unsocial payments for nurses, while Norman Lamb recognised the importance of paying staff fairly while stopping short of a full commitment. Dr Dan Poulter spoke of the need to improve patient care at nights and weekends and pledged not to cut nurses’ pay, but again, did not go as far as to make a commitment to upholding unsocial hours payments.
Future funding of the NHS was an obvious issue of contention. Norman Lamb committed to providing the £8bn required to fill the funding gap identified by head of NHS England, Simon Stevens. Andy Burnham promised to commit to full integration to prevent money going solely to acute trusts and bypassing other important sectors, he said this model would provide necessary savings for the NHS which would be reinvested. Dr Dan Poulter said that his party would give the NHS the money it needs, though did not specify how much he considered this to be.
Integration was an area of more harmony between the parties, with all agreeing on its vital importance. In his closing remarks, Dr Dan Poulter committed to further investment in preventative care, and finding greater efficiencies through procurement and technology. Both Norman Lamb and Andy Burnham have pledged full integration of health and care services should they be the next Secretary of State.
Supporting the manifesto is a great first step but we need to see action on health from whoever it is that takes the keys to Numbers 10 and 11 in May. Our members have spoken in forming this manifesto. It’s vital that their voices are listened to.
To find out more about the Nursing Counts campaign, please visit: elections.rcn.org.uk