Proposals to improve nurse education could be compromised by the failure of the government to tackle the estimated shortage of 30,000 nurses in England, Unite, the country’s largest union, said yesterday (Tuesday the 13th of June).
Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, was commenting on today’s launch by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) of a consultation on proposed changes to the pre-registration nursing standards.
But Unite, which embraces the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA) and the Mental Health Nurses Association (MHNA), said that nursing across the UK faced ‘a perfect storm of negative factors’ that threatened the future of the professions.
These factors included years of pay austerity that had seen the pay of the majority of NHS staff eroded by 17 per cent in real terms since 2010; the ending of nursing bursaries on 1 August; and the cash crisis facing the NHS.
This bleak picture is compounded by the news that the number of nurses from the EU registering to work in the UK has slumped by 96 per cent since the Brexit referendum last June.
Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter said: “We are encouraging our members to proactively engage with the NMC consultation on new education standards and make their views heard.
“However, if you look at the bigger picture, there is a perfect storm on the horizon affecting the recruitment and retention of nurses across the UK.
“The fact that in England there is an estimated shortage of 30,000 nurses is not helped by years of harsh pay restraint in the public sector and the ending of nursing bursaries later this summer.
“The latest news that nurses from the EU don’t fancy working in the UK because of the uncertainty caused by Brexit will exacerbate nurse shortages.
“We want people to join the nursing profession, but that is not going to happen in the numbers required, unless the government takes constructive steps to stop taking our dedicated and hard-working nurses for granted.
“For starters, the government needs to scrap its plan to end nursing bursaries and replacing them with ruinous student loans. It also needs to make a commitment to generously increase NHS pay and funding for 2018/2019.
“There needs to be sufficient numbers of qualified staff to supervise students and, if the government is serious about wanting to reform nursing to improve quality and safety, it should address this issue as well.”