07 June 2022

The Health and Social Care Committee questioned the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid on Tuesday (7 June) in the final session of an inquiry into the recruitment, training and retention of NHS staff.

Previous evidence to the group of MPs cited poor workforce planning, weak policy and fragmented responsibilities as contributing to a "workforce crisis, exacerbated by the lack of a national NHS workforce strategy". It has been estimated that by 2030/31, up to almost half a million extra health care staff would be needed to meet the pressures of demand and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic - the equivalent of a 40 per cent increase in the workforce.  

And only a quarter of nursing shifts have the planned number of registered nurses on duty, a new survey of more than 20,000 frontline staff has suggested. 

According to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), most nurses warn that staffing levels on their last shift were not sufficient to meet the needs of patients. Some nurses are now quitting their jobs as a result. 

Professor Jane Perry, dean of the School of Health, Sport and Bioscience, has many years of clinical experience as a nurse and now leads on delivering technology-driven, modern courses to train healthcare professionals in east and north east London, where there are critical shortages of nurses and other healthcare workers. 

Students at UEL use the latest learning methods, including an immersive simulation centre with AI/VR/AR technology, so they are best equipped for the modern workforce. There are also taster courses to pique interest, and nursing associate and physician associate courses to offer different routes to entry.

Professor Perry says: "Nurses have worked exceptionally hard during the pandemic and have been at the forefront of patient care. It is no wonder that many are burnt out and exhausted.

"However, they have also shown incredible resilience and leadership during this time and despite these challenges applications to the profession and numbers of registered staff on the Nursing and Midwifery Council register have definitely increased.

"Although this does not solve the problem now, it is encouraging for managing the future. Many nurses will still say that nursing can be the most rewarding and fabulous career but we must protect the  wellbeing of our staff and students to ensure we keep them.

"Significant workforce challenges existed even before the pandemic and the demand for care has always struggled to meet the supply. This has undoubtedly raised even greater challenges, particularly when student nurse training has also been so disrupted during this time."

There are some solutions that will help in the short, medium and long term:

  1. Nurses need to feel valued and respected for the significant role that they play and be provided with good preceptorship, mentorship, coaching and clear career pathways which will help them to see where their role can take them.
  2. Growing a local sustainable workforce in areas that are particularly challenging to recruit to will support the retention of nurses while offering opportunities for local people who will also be representative of the community.
  3. There are numerous ways that aspirant nurses can realise their dreams and access nursing from all kinds of backgrounds and qualifications. These include 'get into nursing 'courses which will give them access to the new role of the nursing associate. This can also lead to registered nurse training as either an undergraduate student or an apprentice.
  4. Nurses need to know that there is a career trajectory that will support their development into roles such as the advanced clinical practitioner and other roles that can lead to many different leadership roles (consultant nurse, chief nurse) and that the opportunities are endless.
  5. Nursing has changed dramatically over time and is now a highly skilled degree level profession and should remain so but with support for new ways of working with digital technology. New AR/VR technology, artificial intelligence and high fidelity simulation supports career readiness in a digital world. This also is great for supporting placement activity in a very safe and informative way.
  6. Nurses must challenge and be advocates for patient care and the safety of all. This survey demonstrates there is more to do and rather than accept poor staffing levels, this continues to escalate to drive solutions quickly.
  7. Let us celebrate all that is good about the profession as well as manage this acute problem. There is a notion that no one wants to be a nurse and that's not true; or that nurses shouldn't need a degree. But this entails comparisons of the role of the nurse from many years ago. The world has changed and the skills and level of critical thinking and analysis has never been more important. Nursing is a very responsible and accountable job that should never be dismissed as anything else.
  8. Nurses also need a stronger voice in areas of influence to ensure the significant challenges they face are understood from a place of reality, not assumption.

Image: Osman Marfo-Gyasi

Related topics