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Nurses need a fair settlement for soaring fuel prices

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Brian Morton, RCN National Officer Brian Morton, RCN National Officer

District and community nursing staff are a vital part of our health and care system.

Even before the pandemic the focus has often been on the nursing staff that work in hospitals – but without our district and community nurses many of the most vulnerable could be left without the care they need.

Some have told us the cost of filling up their car has risen recently by as much as £100 a month, putting a strain on already tight finances.

If district and community nurses are unable to afford the increasing costs this could mean less frequent visits to patients and chronic illnesses becoming exacerbated or even missed. Every nurse wants to do the absolute best for their patients but where nurses fail to be financially supported fairly they may not even be able to afford to carry out their duties and patient care will ultimately suffer.

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In the Spring Statement the Chancellor cut the cost of a litre of petrol by 5p. But fuel prices are still high and coupled with other increases in the cost of living many are now having to choose between filling up their cars and feeding their children.

Nursing staff on NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) contracts, or with AfC mileage allowances in their contracts, are currently able to claim 56p per mile for the first 3,500 miles and 20p for each additional mile. Independent employers may follow AfC rates, HMRC approved rates or set their own organisational mileage rates.

But with prices at the pump soaring recently, staff are being left increasingly out of pocket. They shouldn’t have to subsidise the costs of travelling to deliver care to their patients, whoever their employer is.

The RCN is lobbying for an urgent and early review of these mileage rates. Alongside this, NHS and other employers need to make an immediate, additional payment to nursing staff to meet the rising mileage costs and make ends meet.

Safe and effective care is now at stake. Like all branches of nursing, district and community nursing staff are trying to provide this against the backdrop of a severely-depleted workforce.

The latest data from NHS Digital shows that in November 2021 there were 3,900 district nurses working for the NHS in England, a fall of 44.7% from the 7,055 in post in 2009.

One of the simplest ways to keep more staff is a fair pay rise that recognises their professional and safety critical skills.

Analysis by the consultancy London Economics shows that now against the background of wage stagnation across the UK economy over recent years, nursing has fared worse than a range of other professions, as a result of the erosion of pay levels against inflation.

The RCN is calling for a pay award of 5% above the level of inflation. To stop the exodus from the profession, ministers must show a clear commitment to fair pay for nursing.

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