Health Service Focus

08.10.19

‘Nursing workforce have shrunk at an alarming rate’ says RCN, as nursing vacancies rise to record highs

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has published a report today, called ‘Standing up for patient and public safety’, outlining the serious staffing crisis and its potential causes.

The report warns of the need for legal responsibilities regarding the supply and planning of the health and care workforce. It says they need ‘Investment, long-term solutions and legislation to futureproof the workforce’.

This comes after current NHS figures show that there are now a record 43,671 empty nursing positions in the NHS in England alone, with 12% of posts are now without a full time Registered Nurse (RN).

RCN have stated in the report that there must be clearer roles, responsibility and accountability with workforce planning and supply, clearly defined in law.

Since 2017, the number of nurses in England joining the professional register for the first time has consistently been lower than the number of people leaving the register,

Recent polling for the RCN pointed out that 80% of the public agrees that the Government should have a legal responsibility for ensuring there are enough nursing staff.

This issue is having a knock-on effect on patient care, with new analysis showing that wards working with less than 50% of the expected registered nurses were twice as likely to admit they had to compromise on care.

This is why RCN have said, it is no longer the time to be discussing whether we need law, but rather how we secure these vital changes in legislation.

Despite the fact that The Health and Social Care Act (2012) devolved many of the roles and responsibilities on this issue, the RCN report shows that the subsequent poor clarity across all parts of the health system has left parts of it in ‘limbo’ and limited any potential progress on the staffing the crisis.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said:

“Nurses are working harder than ever to deliver safe patient care but are being held back by a system that is legally lacking teeth. Despite the public, patients and nurses all agreeing that clarity is needed on responsibilities for delivering enough nurses, we have yet to see any government pledge anything of the like, and as a result are staring down the barrel at a record 43k empty nursing posts.

“We know how dangerous it can be when there aren’t enough nurses to provide care, but at present, almost all accountability rests with the frontline nurse working on the understaffed ward, rather than those responsible for the system they work in.  We believe the time has come for change and that patient care was future-proofed by law, and that from the government down, decision makers are held to account.

 “Without these bold changes, the public and staff within health and care services cannot be confident that safe and effective care can be delivered, risking the health of patients now and in the future.”

In September, after pressure from RCN members, NHS England and NHS Improvement stated that the issue of accountability for workforce planning and supply remains an area that needs be resolved.

The alarming new report indicates clearly why action is needed to tackle the current workforce crisis but also to ensure there is a sustained investment in the future workforce, at least £1bn per year, according to the RCN.

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