This year will go down in history as the year where the world as we know it changed. The unexpected and the unlikely became the norm and the political arena became unpredictable.
Britain voted to leave the EU after a fierce battle in which the Leave camp promised the NHS would gain £350 million a week. Following the vote, resignation after resignation forced each major political party to overhaul their frontbench. Among the turmoil, the NHS managed to maintain some stability as health secretary Jeremy Hunt retained his job, making him one of the longest serving health secretary’s this country has had.
The nursing workforce was not exempt from huge changes, with concrete plans revealed for the removal of the nursing bursary, the scrapping of the Department of Health’s nursing unit (which was later rectified following an online petition), the arrival of revalidation and HEE’s introduction of the nurse associates role.
A selection of the experts involved gave Independent Nurse their opinions on the news stories that have had the greatest impact on nurses and have the potential to continue to do so in 2017.
The UK’s vote to leave the EU immediately raised questions as to what will happen to EU nurses working in the UK and the impact this could have on the NHS, which heavily relies on overseas nurses and midwives.
Howard Catton, director of nursing and policy at the International Council of Nurses, says much will depend on the UK’s Brexit deal. ‘A hard Brexit with no agreement on freedom of movement, meaning that nurses coming to the UK from the EU have to go through the same process as non-EU nurses, is inevitably likely to delay the process of recruitment to the UK.
‘It may also turn off nurses from overseas who are thinking about migrating to the UK. However, it might be possible that Brexit negotiators cut a deal recognising the importance of the flow of nurses,’ he says.
He says that this also means the expansion of the home grown nursing workforce is now more important than ever, but the removal of the bursary and the appeal of working overseas is a ‘potentially toxic cocktail that will choke off recruitment and accelerate
Given that the NHS was one of the key sparring grounds of both the Remain and Leave camps, Mr Catton says that it must not be side-lined as Brexit negotiations begin and should be a key part of any deal that emerges.
Danielle Tiplady, a newly-registered staff nurse, set up the Bursary or Bust campaign in retaliation to the government’s announcement to scrap the NHS bursary for nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students.
Ms Tiplady said that even before the bursary cuts, she ‘had become increasingly concerned at how huge cuts were being made to our healthcare service. On the day the bursary was cut I was furious and upset. Without my bursary I know I would not have studied nursing. I believe the cuts mark the biggest risk to the future of our healthcare service that we have ever seen’.
Ms Tiplady believes the cuts to the bursaries has led the nursing workforce to wake up to political activity but that this ‘cut too far’ has also dampened morale.
September 2017 will see the first cohort of student nurses who do not have access to the bursary enter university. They will instead need to apply for student loans. She says that she will be interested to see the number of applicants to UCAS in January, via a Freedom of Information request the Bursary or Bust campaign
Ms Tiplady hopes that the pay review in March 2017 will have good results for nurses, but if that does not happen she hopes ‘that nurses will get their banners ready and get marching on the streets for our working rights next year.
‘We deserve so much more and we are worth it,’ she says.
Closely interlinked with the removal of the nursing bursary, were multiple stories that frontline nurses were struggling to make ends meet; pawning belongings, accessing food banks on a regular basis and taking out payday loans to make ends meet.
Research carried out by Independent Nurse earlier this year found that 90% of respondents experienced problems with money, and 62% said they were short each month. Over a quarter said that every week they felt that they were struggling for money.
Paul Steiner from the Cavell Nurse’s Trust, a charity which helps nurses in financial need, said that ‘in the last 12 months we have seen a 29% rise in the number of people contacting the charity for help and we can’t see that [need]disappearing anytime soon’.
The Cavell Nurse’s Trust published results of its survey of 2200 nurses, midwives and HCAs on levels of financial hardship, health worries and domestic abuse. This has helped ‘highlight that the problem of nurses suffering is a real one’.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s mission statement in 2016 was to reduce increasing levels of obesity, particularly in children. Following two delays, the Childhood Obesity Strategy was finally released in the summer, but was met with scepticism from healthcare professionals.
Many experts believed that the strategy was not robust enough and was not as strong as expected.
Professor Neena Modi, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that there was an expectation that the strategy would ‘provide the green light that was needed in order to make a big difference to the prevalence of child obesity in the UK.
‘After many, many months of waiting, we were pleased to see the planned introduction of a sugar levy on soft drinks, but very disappointed that in other respects what was presented was a watered down plan and not the strong strategy that had been promised.’
The government has said that the plan is a ‘work in progress’, so Professor Modi hopes that there will be a rapid adoption of the remaining recommendations.
In just a few short weeks, 2017 will be here and with it the opportunity to put nurses and the NHS at the centre of government plans. Nurses are a vital part of the workforce and should be treated as such.