The nursing crisis
By Xuan Hoang
The life of a nurse is challenging, exhausting, and rewarding. It’s a tough job with long hours and low pay, but these guys went into the field knowing this. Because for them the rewards out-weigh the lows, their commitments overcome the challenges, and their care for patients is far stronger than the physical exhaustion felt at the end of the day.
Instilled with the five Cs of nursing: commitment, conscience, competence, compassion, and confidence, it can be at times a true test of strength. But at what point are these values stretched so far that they can no longer go on, and we find ourselves in a nursing crisis?
There are currently 40,000 unfilled nursing posts in the NHS, doubling since 2013 and the worst recruitment crisis in its history. It’s the accumulation of many factors, from short-term planning, government cuts, to Brexit.
When the government cut nurse training places by 10% in 2010, this had a significant effect on the nursing workforce. And it meant the NHS was not secure enough to withstand more problems which will later occur – Brexit being one. Within a year of the Brexit referendum, the number of nurses from EU joining the NHS dropped by 96%, overstretching the unstable workforce.
But it’s the departure of UK nurses that’s had the biggest impact. Overworked and underpaid nurses are the overbearing factor in this crisis. There’s a kind of vicious cycle; as understaffing mounts more pressure on nurses, many are struggling to cope, driving further nurses to leave in despair.
With the government 1% pay cap on public sector, nurses’ wages have fallen by 14% in real terms since 2010. As workload and stress spirals upwards and wages fall, many are finding that they can no longer carry on; disillusioned, unable to care for patients safely, and struggling with pay restraints.
And the future NHS workforce is filled with yet more uncertainty. Since the government abolished nursing student bursaries in an apparent claim to free up more money for 10,000 new nursing degree places – a promise which they have since quietly gone against - applications for nursing at universities have fallen by 23%. With even fewer nurses graduating by 2020, and nearly half the workforce eligible for retirement, this will only exacerbate the already critical situation.
For now, we have an unprecedented recruitment crisis that effects not only the sector and its workers, but everyone who will ever need the care and help it gives. With ongoing political turmoil and aversion set against nurses and the NHS, it’s hard to foresee the significant solutions ahead - if in fact solutions really are being sought after by the people we need them from.
SMRS are currently working with London North West NHS Trust, helping them come up with new ways to solve their staffing shortage. Working in both education and employer markets, we see and understand the problems that are faced in both sectors, and we want to help make change.Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system. Let’s support and value the important and meaningful work they do.