Nursing is not just a bedrock of the National Health Service, offering the vital frontline care that has saved countless lives down the decades, but also a bellwether for how the wider system is faring.
In recent years, those who have received treatment themselves, or visited family and friends doing so, are likely to have witnesses the increasingly-common experience of over-stretched staff doing their best in trying circumstances but being physically unable to provide the highest standard of care each patient deserves.
The statistics back this up; with a quarter of NHS wards routinely operating at unsafe staffing levels, there are growing fears that the lessons of the Mid Staffordshire scandal are being forgotten.
The prognosis for the future also looks bleak, one in eight nursing posts are currently vacant and recent research has suggested 100,000 extra nurses will be needed in the next decade. Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, will today warn in a speech that the workforce crisis in nursing is “shortchanging the public”; a view with which it is hard to disagree.
It is by no means the only cause of nursing’s ailments but the ill-fated decision by the Government to scrap university bursaries for those training to go into the profession in a bid to save £800m a year while creating thousands of extra degree places may require re-examination.
The RCN says the numbers of people applying to begin training in September 2018 dropped 12 per cent compared to the same time in 2017, when the bursaries were dropped. The Government intends to produce a full NHS ‘People Plan’ later this year which it says will “ensure the health service has the staff it needs for the future”. Given the current situation, that is an extremely bold claim but the challenge is one that simply has to be met for the good of patients and professionals.