Union leader says Brexit is driving away nurses and demands investment in ‘broken’ health system
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The director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in the East of England has called on the Government to value nurses amid a snowballing recruitment crisis, fuelled by anxiety around Brexit, the removal of university bursaries, rising stress levels among workers and low pay.
Teresa Budrey said the health system in its current state felt “broken”, and there needed to be investment in services and better treatment of staff in order to ensure patients are getting the best quality care.
Members of the RCN - including those in Suffolk and Essex - are preparing for strike action this summer unless the 1% cap on public sector salary increases is lifted, as figures show 13.1% of nursing posts in the East of England are going unfilled.
Ms Budrey said: “At the moment our members have decided they would like a summer of protest of raising the profile around their issues and concerns with the aim to ask the Government to scrap the cap.
“This is about challenging Government to value nurses and to give them a pay increase.
“It is about patient care in the way that registered nurses know a safe level of staffing means good patient care. They know where there are vacancies, where people aren’t coming into the profession and where nurses are leaving because the pay is not good enough, it affects patient care. No nurse goes to work in the morning wanting to deliver poor standards but the way they are being asked to work compromises them on a daily basis in most NHS areas.”
The UK’s vote to leave the European Union is driving foreign NHS nurses out of the country and putting other potential employees off from entering, Ms Budrey said.
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“I meet with the directors of nursing and I am hearing stories from them of where in the past they would have gone to Europe to recruit nurses to bring them in from Portugal, Italy and Spain, that pipeline of nurses is drying up because they are not wanting to come,” she added.
“We hear from the nurses already in the region that they feel that they are not welcome anymore and they equate that to feeling being bullied. We can’t find evidence that there is actual bullying but that’s how they feel, and they don’t feel welcome anymore and they are just waiting to hear whether they will have any protection to stay.
“That’s another point from us as an organisation that we really want the Government to commit to protecting the EU nurses who are working here already to enable them to stay and feel welcome and safe.”
Bursaries for student nurses and midwives will start to be removed this year and replaced with a loan.
Ms Budrey said RCN, a trade union for nurses, understood that universities which had implemented this change were around 30% down on their take-up for September, “which means in three years’ time there will be 30% less nurses for the workforce”.
The Government is carrying out a number of initiatives to try and fill gaps in the rota, such as introducing the nursing associate role into the health service and bringing in nursing apprenticeships, but Ms Budrey said it was not enough, and more needed to be done to promote nursing as a good career choice.
Issues around staffing are having an impact of those nurses already working in the NHS, Ms Budrey said, claiming that bosses had “forgotten” about the health and wellbeing of their own employees.
She added: “Nurses are not being able to take a break within their shift, not having time to go to the loo, not drinking enough water, not having time to get a cup of tea, because they are busy and they are full-on within their shift delivering patient care so they are not looking after themselves and the employer doesn’t see it as a priority anymore because they have so many other areas to focus on.”
Meanwhile as budgets have been sliced, training for nurses to improve their clinical skills has “disappeared”, Ms Budrey said.
She added: “Clearly our call is for the Government to value nurses and to value nursing and to understand the pay concerns and the deficits and to remove the cap of 1% so there is a pay increase and to come back around the table to discuss pay for 2018.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “As the Secretary of State has made clear, the support and welfare of NHS staff is a top priority as they do a fantastic job - the government is committed to ensuring they can continue to deliver world-class patient care.”