Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Janet Davies the Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing to discuss the overwhelming difficulties nurses are currently facing in the NHS. The two biggest issues nurses are facing are the cuts to university bursaries and the cap on nurses pay, both of which are having a drastic impact on the NHS.
No one will dispute that nurses are the frontline of our National Health Service, all of us when we go to hospital see first-hand the hard work and dedication that nurses put in to caring for our loved ones and ourselves. Yet the current crisis in the NHS is seeing nurses taking on even more of the workload to make up for the shortfall in staff and work extra hours, despite not having a pay rise since 2010. In fact since the Government introduced a pay cap on nurse’s wages they have seen a 20% reduction in real time earnings. The regrading of nurse payrolls has meant that nurses are taking on more work and responsibility for the same amount of money. Many are having to take on extra hours simply to supplement the wages that they should be earning. It is an outrage.
If the current pay and working conditions aren’t enough to demoralise the nursing profession, the Government’s cuts to nursing bursaries has already had a dramatic impact on the number of applicants for nursing courses at university. According the Royal College of Nursing preliminary university application figures show that there has been a 23% reduction in the number of applicants for nursing courses and a 29% drop in the number of applicants over 25. These figures are deeply concerning particularly when paired with the uncertainty Brexit is causing for the recruitment of nurses from the European Union.
The picture of nursing in Britain is gloomy to say the least particularly when we add in the harsh Government cuts to local council budgets and the ramifications that is currently having. Some local councils have cut their community nursing budgets by 50%. School nurses are becoming a thing of the past. While there has been a 42% reduction in the number of district nurses.
The Government needs to look seriously at a nurse recruitment strategy or there simply will not be enough nurses in the NHS in the next five to ten years to look after us all. It is not a question of funding but also of respect. The Labour Party understands that the foundation of the National Health Service is the people who work for it. Nurses work tirelessly for their patients and all those who come into nursing do so not for money but because they have a natural instinct to care for those who are ill and suffering. Yet this Government has shown a complete lack of respect time and time again, first with the pay cap and now with cuts to nurse bursaries. I fear that this short term thinking will see many leave the profession. That is why as a Member of the Shadow Health team I will continue to stand up for nurses and put pressure on this Government to show nurses the respect they deserve by lifting the pay cap and reinstating nursing bursaries. While also campaigning passionately for a Labour Government who will put the NHS and those who work in it first.