Nursing workforce ‘overstretched’ and ‘struggling to cope’, MPs warn

A damning report from the Commons Health Select Committee has criticised the pressures on morale, retention and standards of care that have been caused by an “overstretched” nursing workforce in the UK.

Today’s inquiry review analysed the changes made to deal with recruitment and the staffing crisis, suggesting that too little of the attention has been put on the current workforce, with more nurses now leaving the register than joining it.

It hit out at access to the continuing professional development (CPD) programme, and cuts to training budgets as well as overall cuts to the NHS.

Summarising, the committee said: “In too many areas and specialties, the nursing workforce is overstretched and struggling to cope with demand. Over the course of our inquiry, we heard concerns about the impact of these pressures on morale, retention, and standards of care for patients.

“There are many causes for the shortfall in the nursing workforce, including workload pressures, poor access to continuing professional development, a sense of not feeling valued, ongoing pay restraint, the impact of Brexit and the introduction of language testing.”

While the report does welcome some of the new government policies surrounding nursing, it specifically points to fears surrounding areas of the workforce which are already struggling, such as learning disability and mental health nursing.

The recruitment and retention of overseas nurses was also scrutinised, with the committee saying the NHS “depends” on foreign nurses and asking that the government provide a clear assurance to staff who fear the impact of the UK leaving the EU.

Report comes at ‘crucial’ time for NHS workforce

Danny Mortimer, CEO of NHS Employers, welcomed the release of today’s report and said it came at a “crucial time” for the workforce.

“It is a positive step by the committee to explore and examine a topic which profoundly impacts the NHS and its patients, the state of the nursing workforce today, and what needs to be done,” Mortimer said.

“Recruiting and retaining nurses are absolutely key for the NHS to provide first class care in the 21st century and there is a great deal of work being undertaken to improve access to nursing and to ensure that our nurses and midwives are retained within the NHS.”

Phillippa Hentsch, head of analysis at NHS Providers, added: “Today’s report is a further reminder of the difficulties trusts face in recruiting and retaining nurses to ensure the safe high-quality care that patients deserve.

“Trusts are working hard to improve retention rates, but NHS nurses are working in an extremely challenging environment, with many routinely working long hours, often under intolerable pressure.

“Add to these seven years of pay restraint, cuts to funding for professional development, the introduction of more stringent language testing and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit – all making it harder for trusts to recruit and keep the nurses they need.”

Hentsch also referred specifically to areas of the NHS outside of hospitals, raising questions about the ageing workforce of community and mental health nurses.

Nurses have repeatedly called for pay increases in line with inflation, an issue which it says is causing increasing pressure on an already pressurised workforce.

RCN: nursing now on ‘dangerous path’

Following today’s report, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) urged the government again to invest in nursing.

The organisation’s CEO and general secretary Janet Davies said: “It’s clear the Health Committee has listened to the views of frontline nursing staff and made practical suggestions on what must be done to value the profession to improve retention and raise morale.

“The government must now also listen and respond to these recommendations. This is the latest in a litany of calls for investment in the existing and future nursing workforce. Without action, nursing will remain on its current dangerous path. This report should make for sober reading inside the corridors of power.”

The committee’s report also mentions Health Education England’s (HEE) future plans for a long-term workforce strategy, saying that the government needs to take a view based on demographics and “other demand factors” rather than affordability.

The upcoming strategy has been a hot-button issue in the health sector and Dean Royles, director of human resources and organisational development at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, appeared in the latest edition of NHE to explain the reasons for its importance.

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