Reports and Campaigns
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The stress and hardship faced by nurses
Eleanor Midgley, a member of the RCN (Royal College of Nursing)
NHS England currently has 89,000 staff vacancies, 40,000 of which are nursing posts. After 27 years as a nurse I can see a 'perfect storm' of political decisions that are forcing so many nurses away from the profession. With a real terms pay cut of 14% over the last seven years, nursing is becoming an unaffordable and undesirable career choice.
The removal of student nurse bursaries has seen a 50% reduction in university applications in London and 23% nationally. Historically, nursing students, who also work on the wards during their studies, have not paid student fees. This has enabled people with life experience, mature students and those from poorer backgrounds to join the profession. It takes three years to complete nurse training and a degree, so we need to reverse this policy quickly to prevent a further shortfall in the future.
On the wards the impact of falling staffing levels inevitably affects patient care. The numbers of patients treated by the NHS is at an all time high and understaffing makes meeting their needs an uphill task. An unprecedented exodus of junior doctors has meant that nursing staff have had to extend their clinical role to cover the shortfall and our pay has not improved to reflect this.
Finally, add to the mix the onslaught of privatisation which has meant that whole services and departments are now run by private health care. Staff who have committed their entire career to the principles of the NHS suddenly find they are working for BUPA or Virgin Healthcare. I have never in all my career known such a demoralised workforce. Nursing staff suffering real financial hardship and unrelenting stress. The NHS is currently being run on goodwill, with staff working unpaid overtime every shift, not having breaks and struggling with the overwhelming workload.
We are not a greedy profession but we are struggling to make ends meet with such a drop in our income. Our job is difficult and requires specialist skills. We must force the government to scrap the 1% pay cap and reintroduce the student nurse bursaries in order to ensure safer staffing.