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Nursing profession at crisis point

Author: Julie Tansey

The nursing profession is at crisis point as staff shortages and work pressures take their toll on many.

For the first time in its history the Royal College of Nursing, traditionally always opposed to industrial action for fear of the impact on patient safety, took steps that could ultimately lead to strike action.

In a recent Industrial Action survey sent out to Royal College members, 52,000 nurses made their opinions known; the results were perhaps unsurprising.  Nearly 80% of nurses who voted would support a strike but the number that took part in the survey was too few to force a formal ballot.

Pay is also a major factor.  There has been recent coverage in the media about nurses struggling to cope and even using food banks and taking out payday loans in order to feed their families. The 1% pay cap certainly isn’t going to improve the situation. Royal College of Nursing members now feel that the erosion of the workforce from what are effectively pay cuts , inflation currently being a 3.1 on the RPI measure to housing costs, are a bigger threat to patient safety.

The nursing profession has witnessed the impact of the treatment of junior doctors and feel they are now being targeted and their goodwill is running out too.  Record numbers of nurses are taking time off with stress.  Many Trusts are reportedly running on nursing numbers that break safe staffing levels.  Alison Leary, Registered Nurse and Professor of Healthcare and Workforce Modelling at London South Bank University has previously stated:  “ The consequences could be catastrophic if we don’t address the situation soon…….the simple answer is that we need to train more nurses”.  She worries that nurses do not vocalise their needs as effectively as their doctor colleagues and problems are therefore not highlighted.  She says:  “Nursing is seen as primarily a service-only job but it’s actually a safety critical profession. There is a lot of risk in caring for the very unwell and registered nurses manage that risk”.

More needs to be done to encourage people into the profession or the likely impact on patient safety over the coming years is unthinkable.


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