Danielle Tiplady takes a look at how the Tories' policies are destroying the NHS
We are all aware we have a chronic nursing shortage in the UK. Overall we have approximately 24,000 nursing vacancies. Hearing the report only yesterday that 1/3 of nurses are now coming to retirement age makes it a reality that the nursing shortage is about to get dramatically worse. Consequently it is patients who will sadly suffer unless action is quickly taken to restore some respect within nursing.
The governments answer to the shortage is to cut the NHS bursary, replacing it with a hefty loan whereby students will effectively pay to work (between £51-64k) which they suggest will increase training places by 10,000. Pre-registration nurse training is facing the biggest ever risk to its future due to these disasterous cuts. It doesn't take much to realise these changes will act as a deterent to entering something that could be the best profession in the world.
The existence of the bursary is not the reason why we have such a chronic nursing shortage. The bursary cuts are short sighted - what really matters are the issues within the NHS which make it a difficult and challenging place to work, leading staff to leave in droves. One major issue is pay. Nurses do not do this job for money, we do this job as we want to care for and make a difference to those who need it the most. Yet we are humans, the cost of living grows daily and having lost 14% of our pay in real terms since 2010, it comes as no surprise (albeit a very sad one) that we hear increasing numbers of nurses are using food banks and hardship funds. Only the other day i saw a nurse stating on the Royal College of Nursing website that her dad was 71 years old and she still relied on him to help with her bills, resulting in her feeling like she had "failed as a daughter". How utterly heartbreaking.
The reality of the pay loss on the wards is that our nurses are working 70-80 hour weeks to simply be able to put warm food on their table or pay their rent. They are exhausted. Working conditions are declining, safe staffing ratios scrapped, a cap on agency nursing and chronic underfunding mean often nurses are left to care for a large case load. Evidence demonstrates patient outcomes are better in safely staffed areas. Furthermore, nurses have a more positive well-being - for one thing, they are able to take breaks! As it stands many do not even get time for a cup of tea in a twelve and a half hour shift.
Progression is becoming increasingly difficult. Funding has been cut at the core of post-registration education, meaning nurses do not have very much if any funding at all to go and do extra courses. If we want to do a masters we will have to take out loans, which we will pay back from our capped salary. It is only with a masters that we can move forward into other roles. Our future as it stands is not looking very bright.
Adding more fuel to the fire, recently the government decided to push out nursing representatives we had in the Department of Health, leaving only one of our medical colleagues. Our roles and jobs are totally different, if it were the other way around i know i would not be able to advocate for medicine as my job has no similarities to theirs. It would not be fair. This is a shameful move by the government and further demonstrates their complete lack of respect for our profession.
I see a demoralised workforce. One who is exhausted, sad and crushed. We dont ask for much just a little respect and adequate working conditions for a job that we so love. Now is the time for nurses to speak up, for too long we have been the silent workforce. I fear if we do not, we may about to lose the nursing profession forever.
Because after all, nursing counts.