My two pet hate sentiments about the NHS come from different sides of the political spectrum. One is from the right: a faux concern that the service is unaffordable, where by international standards of health care, it’s pretty cheap, and certainly a far smaller portion of gross national product than a private system. The other is from the left, which claims the NHS is in danger of privatisation. It’s a seductive view, if you have no idea of the structures of the NHS, or how unattractive a proposition this is for the private sector. But it drives me bananas.
Why? Because there is a threat to the NHS, that doesn’t fit into a clear ideological box, and that is bad workforce planning, and it’s coming home to roost. Figures from NHS Improvement, reveal staff shortages across the board, but it’s the ones in nursing that are particularly stark. Almost one in eight posts is currently vacant: England is currently short of 42,000 nurses.
The causes aren’t too tough to see: eight years of austerity which have cut nurses’ salaries in real terms have caused many to leave the profession; the nativist urges of Brexit which have cut off the supply of EU nurses; and the scrapping of the student bursary which has attached a hefty cost to training.
But what is to be done? I’m starting to think the answer is in the less specialist and quicker routes of apprenticeships, and associate posts. ICUs may require the clinical skill of a graduate, but the expanding area of elderly care doesn’t, why not start a new generation of nurses here, with the option to work up?
Oh, and a pay rise wouldn’t hurt, but you knew that already.