On 23rd November 2021 the Health and Social Care Bill was presented and debated in the House of Commons. There are many, many issues which were debated that are relevant to the nursing profession and specifically to nurses who work in the community setting, including care homes and GP practices, and who can see for themselves the pressures which all health and social care services are under.
The secretary of state for health and social care Sajid Javid was asked about the workforce and replied, ‘We are making the biggest investment in the workforce that this country has ever seen’. This is quite a statement and is very welcome. We know that recruitment to pre-registration nursing programmes has increased significantly in the autumn intake – up by 8% on 2020. And whilst student attrition rates can be high, we also know that universities put multiple measures in place to support student nurses throughout their programmes.
Ethical international recruitment is also part of the drive for more nursing and midwifery staff to support the existing workforce. The QNI has been delighted to be working alongside NHSE/I this year to support the recruitment of internationally educated nurses to roles in Community Nursing services. It is a joy to see the nurses who have been recruited being embraced by existing colleagues, and the sharing and learning from each other is uplifting. Our website is packed with information about this initiative.
We have so much to learn from our internationally educated nurses. In 2019 I was fortunate to undertake a Churchill Fellowship, and I travelled to Australia to explore the ways in which nurses work independently to support their remote and rural communities in central Australia. I learned so much from highly skilled nurses who were educated and trained to live with and support every remote community in the country, working autonomously and with a public health approach to their work.
In supporting the current international recruitment work, I have also learned the importance of the pastoral support for nurses travelling from their home country to work in the NHS – all part of the wider retention strategy for the whole nursing workforce. To find out more about the work of NHSE/I and the QNI, please hold the date for our next International Recruitment webinar on 3rd February, 12md-1.30pm – further details with the Eventbrite link will be released on the website and social media soon.
Measures taken to support retention in the whole health and social care workforce are also critical to retaining staff at a time when it looks like there is little government understanding of the work of the nursing profession. In the same debate in Parliament mentioned above, there was an amendment put forward to the Health and Social Care Bill by Dawn Butler MP.
The amendment was simple – to protect the title of Nurse in UK law so that people who are not Registered Nurses may no longer be able to use the title Nurse and potentially place people at risk of harm. The ‘ProtectNurse’ campaign, led by Professor Alison Leary, has been running for more than six months and the parliamentary petition gained more than 33K signatories.
It is disappointing that the amendment was not passed when voted on, as the majority of Conservative MPs voted against the title of Nurse being protected by law – and by definition for the potential for harm to continue. It is hard to understand why any politician would vote against the amendment when there is such support for it – including from the most senior nurses in the country, including Ruth May, Professor Charlotte McArdle and Professor Mark Radford and previous Health Minister and Registered Nurse, Ann Keen. However, thankfully our democratic system allows for a further reading of the Bill in the House of Lords in the New Year and there is every potential for the amendment to be agreed there.
That would provide a very strong message about the value of nursing in 2022 and would go a long way to boosting the morale of the nursing workforce at a time when we could never have needed it more.