Nurses have played a vital role in caring for people during the COVID-19 outbreak. In the NHS, these efforts took place against a backdrop of an acknowledged shortfall of nearly 40,000 nursing vacancies, which had already put both staff and services under increased strain. The NHS Long Term Plan was not supported by a detailed workforce plan to ensure the NHS had the number and type of nurses it needed, and it did not have all the necessary long-term funding secured. Disappointingly this remains the case and there are worrying indications that the NHS has reverted from long-term planning to short-term firefighting. This is not good enough for the over-stretched NHS workforce.
The pace of progress on increasing the number of nurses in the NHS is too slow, given the years it takes for some actions—such as on undergraduate nursing degrees - to come to fruition. One of the Department’s main policy changes—the removal of the NHS bursary in 2017—signally failed to achieve its ambition to increase nursing student numbers. The Department and its arm’s-length bodies must also quickly learn the lessons from the COVID-19 outbreak, which present both challenges and opportunities in how we recruit and retain the nurses we need.
We are very concerned about the Department’s approach to addressing shortages in adult social care nurses, which remains an afterthought to the planning in place for the NHS. We share with the Chief Nursing Officer the hope that, if we learn anything from our response to the pandemic, it is about the real value of closer integration between health and social care. Now, more than ever, we must support our nurses to be able to do their work across health and social care.
Published: 23 September 2020