At the start of June, Health Education England (HEE) launched a return to practice campaign with Mumsnet. (1)
The aim is to recruit at least 1,000 returning nurses into adult, child, mental health and learning disability nursing per year, and at least 100 returning nurses into general practice by March 2020. For returning nurses, support available includes mentors and tutors, alongside £500 worth of financial support to help with travel, childcare and book costs. Mumsnet (2) will help to promote the marketing campaign and showcase video stories from nurses who have returned to the profession.
A good and creative idea, it will hopefully help some nurses return to practice. But tempting nurses to return after maternity breaks won't fix retention issues.
With one in nine nursing posts unfilled - that's nearly 40,000 nursing vacancies in the UK - the consequent lack of nursing staff is having a big impact on both patient safety and the stress and mental health of nurses. (3)
Recent conversations with CMF nurses brought to light members barely hanging in there at work, and who are constantly concerned that they will make a serious mistake (and possibly lose their PIN number, in a quick-to-blame nursing culture), due to time and resource pressure. These CMF members are trying to do the best job they can, but need support. CMF can't solve hospital staffing issues, but can offer informed advice, care, compassion and prayer.
Low staff levels and unfilled posts are obviously not confined just to nurses and affect all healthcare professionals. We need better retention, support, and working conditions for all NHS staff.
In May this year, the Royal College of Nursing Congress called for the government to introduce a safe staffing level legislation (4), which Wales introduced in 2016 (the first country in Europe to do so) and which has recently been passed by the Scottish government. (5) At present, nurse staffing levels are set locally by individual health providers and there is currently no compliance regime or compulsion for providers to adhere to these levels. Safe staffing level legislation would mean an obligation for health boards and trusts to ensure there are sufficient nurse staffing levels, and the skill mix to meet the needs of patients receiving care.
Obviously, this doesn't answer the question of funding, increasing demand, and the recruitment of new nurses, but at least it would be a first step in creating a safer and less stressful environment for our nurses to work in. Who knows, they may even stay.
Review by Pippa Peppiatt, CMF Head of Nursing