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  • 05 April 2017
  • 3 min read

Down but not out - a bad week for the NHS

  • Ruth Underdown
    Nurse & Specialist Writer

The NHS is reeling after a bruising encounter with a 1% pay rise announcement, shortly followed by the prospect of a ban on agency work.

Last week was a big news week for all nurses in the NHS. No sooner had the 1% pay rise been announced and the backlash had begun, than the awareness that a ban on NHS staff working for agencies to supplement their income was due to come into effect on the 1st of April.

Two body blows to the nursing profession in less than a week was too much to bear and the fury was palpable.

Social media was alight with the frustrations and disappointment felt by nurses. The feeling of lack of recognition, being under pressure to do their best and that their good will was being taken for granted.

The NHS pay review body announcing a 1% pay rise for NHS staff for the seventh year running equates to a pay cut in real terms when you consider that the inflation rate according to the Retail Price Index is running at 3.2% (the highest since September 2013.)

(Ref: )

The unions expressed their outrage, letters to the Minister for Health were sent and the policy for banning agency use was rescinded just hours before it was due to come into effect; some proof that pressure from a workforce and their unions still has a degree of influence on government policy, even if it is only to give a stay of execution.

The problem is that the vacancy rate in the NHS was already at 11% according to a Freedom of Information Request made by the BBC at the end of 2015.

(Ref: BBC News)

That was before the referendum over the EU and now the triggering of Article 50.

The nurse vacancies we have backfilled with the use of European and agency nurses are both lines of survival for the NHS. Without them, we are cutting off the only way that the front line of patient care can continue.

With the expectation that one in three nurses will be due to retire in the next 10 years, things are not looking hopeful.

(Ref: Nursing Times )

This will mean that the loss of highly skilled and experienced nurses will be a further impairment to patient care and mentorship for the new nurses coming through from university.

Never mind the discontinuation of the bursary for student nurses which will only further decrease the appeal of coming into nursing as a profession.

The bursary for a lot of students was the only way many of them can make a nursing course a realistic career option – and I include myself in this.

So what now?

What's next for nurses

Well for the moment we can only hope that the government plan for banning agency staff gets shelved for a prolonged period.

In the meantime, frontline nurses will continue to do their jobs in the best way that they can and with that the burnout rate and decision to leave nursing will come more to the fore.

Good nurses will be lost to other professions, agencies or to the private sector that will be grateful to have such a dedicated workforce who is fed up with being taken for granted.

The NHS is lucky that the workforce that they have is so dedicated.

Sure, we need to pay the bills but to a large extent, we love the job that we do.

It’s the frustration that we can’t do it well because of the shortage of staff and the pressures to do more than we are physically capable of doing as the patients are sicker and need more interventions than ever before.

Expectations are higher and so are nurse’s individual skills.

We should be recognised for that at the very least.

About the author

  • Ruth Underdown
    Nurse & Specialist Writer

Since qualifying in Adult Nursing in 2002 I’ve worked as a specialist nurse with the NHS, and in the private sector as a general nurse and sessional nurse for a hospital at home team (I’ve been about a bit!). Also kept nice and busy by my young family!

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