I support legislating to ensure safe staffing levels alongside wider reforms to make the NHS the best employer in the world and I did pop in to speak to RCN members.
NHS staff work long hours, often in difficult circumstances. They do so much to make our health service one to be proud of and deserve our respect, admiration and support. Yet despite their brilliant efforts, years of pay restraint and a failure by Government to invest in and plan appropriately for the workforce has resulted in over 100,000 vacancies across the NHS, including 39,000 nurse vacancies.
I am disappointed that the Government has repeatedly refused to bring forward legislation to ensure safe staffing levels in the NHS. I also believe reforms to higher education, including the abolition of the student nurse bursary, have failed. Rather than investing in healthcare students and protecting their bursaries – which help with living costs and tuition fees – students are now being asked to pay to train to work in the NHS.
The Royal College of Nursing recently confirmed that nursing degree applications have fallen by 30% since the bursary was removed. Independent health think tanks are warning that there will be a 250,000 shortfall of NHS staff by 2030. I am concerned that staff shortages are putting patient care at risk. Without immediate and determined action, backed by investment from the Government, the NHS workforce crisis will only get worse.
If Ministers are serious about tackling the workforce crisis and increasing the nursing workforce, they should bring forward a credible workforce plan, reinstate NHS bursaries, invest in nursing higher education, and legislate to ensure safe staffing levels. More widely, I support investing £330 million in staff training and development to tackle the retention crisis and the introduction of a national Staff Wellbeing Strategy to support all staff. This would include the establishment of board level NHS Workforce Wellbeing Guardians in every local, regional and national NHS organisation.
I have written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ask what the Government are going to do to increase the workforce to increase the effectiveness of the NHS and to allow staff to provide safe and effective care to patients.