The RCN and other organisations have welcome the publication of the Long-Term Plan for the NHS in England.
The plan, which provides a blueprint for the NHS over the next 10 years, sets out how spending will be prioritised as the NHS’ annual budget is increased by £20 billion by 2023.
It includes a focus on prevention and early detection with GPs, mental health services and community care getting the biggest funding increases. It aims to help save almost half a million lives with action on major killer conditions, such as stroke, and investment in cutting edge treatments including genomic tests for every child with cancer.
‘We welcome the ambitions outlined in the plan, and it deserves to succeed. But translating good intentions into better treatment and care for patients relies on having the right number of nurses with the right skills across our NHS. Three priorities of the plan are cancer treatment, mental health and caring for patients at home,’ said Dame Donna Kinnair, Acting RCN Chief Executive. ‘This is undoubtedly the right direction, yet with 40,000 nurse vacancies in England, cancer centres are struggling to recruit specialist cancer nurses, we have lost 5,000 mental health nurses since 2010, and district nurse numbers fell almost 50% in the same period.’
“Increased investment in the NHS is much needed and today’s long term plan for the health service in England, setting out how that extra money will be spent, is a step in the right direction,’ said NMC Interim Chief Executive and Registrar, Sue Killen.
‘Nurses and midwives are the cornerstone of the NHS and the plan rightly recognises the need for greater investment in people – both in terms of attracting more and retaining those we have. But more detail is needed on how this will be achieved, particularly in relation to ensuring nurses and midwives get the ongoing support, training and development opportunities they need throughout their careers. We know this is key to retaining staff and improving the quality of care.’
However, concerns have been raised on the plan to employ the staff required to deliver such services. According to the RCN, while the plan recognises the strain nurses are under as a result of shortages within the profession, it suggests some concerning solutions for increasing the number of nursing graduates. These include the creation of online degree courses linked to placements, which the Government hopes will help reduce the nursing vacancy rate to 5% by 2028.
‘As the Prime Minister said in her speech today, the NHS’s biggest asset is its staff. It is strange then that this plan offers no money for nurses to develop the specialist skills patients need. And it is equally concerning that online courses are presented as a magic bullet to solve the workforce crisis, added Dame Kinnair. ‘Nursing degrees demand both academic and practical skills which student nurses learn from contact with professionals and peers, a model not easily replicated online, even with clinical placements. Nursing is career like no other, and it takes the right values and ambition to succeed. Entry standards are rigorous because they have to be - it is what safe patient care demands.’