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Nursing: Summer of Protest starts

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summer of protest, RCN, scrap the cap, nurses pay, patient safetyTheresa May ‘must put patient safety before political dogma’ and scrap the pay cap.

Nurses and healthcare assistants gathered at nurse Edith Cavell’s grave in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral for a candlelight vigil on 26 June at the start of a ‘summer of protest’ to highlight growing anger about the continuing 1 per cent pay cap.

And on 27 June nurses and health care assistants joined protests in 30 locations in the UK – timed for the June pay day in the NHS – to mark the start of the Royal College of Nursing’s ‘summer of protest’.

Many are on understaffed shifts, tired, facing more work than they can handle, and with their mental health under pressure.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the nurses’ union, has reported its members taking on second jobs to make ends meet, including a window-cleaning round and working shifts in a supermarket, and nurses having to go to foodbanks.

Protest events have been held outside the Department of Health in London, the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, the NHS England headquarters in Birmingham, hospitals around the country and in other public places.

And nurses at public stalls distributed campaign postcards for members of the public to send to their MPs.

The summer of protest follows a recent poll of RCN members which found 91 per cent would support a form of industrial action.

The RCN issued a general election manifesto, Nursing Counts, earlier this year which called on all political parties to address its three priorities.

It wants the new government to now commit to them.

Improving patient care was one priority. Safe and effective staffing, Access to specialist nursing services and the regulation of healthcare support workers.

The manifesto calls for guaranteed safe and effective staffing levels in all health and care settings throughout the UK.

This is important because there is clear evidence that the right number of registered nurses caring for patients is linked to better outcomes for patients and safer care.

And while the RCN recognises that there is no fixed ratio – staffing levels need to change in response to the severity of a patient’s illness.

However, safe staffing levels in every health and care setting will ensure that people using services are safe and well cared for, wherever they are.

That is why the RCN is calling for guaranteed safe and effective nurse staffing levels in each country in the UK. This must also be underpinned by a long term and robust approach to getting workforce planning right.

The manifesto also calls for protection of specialist nurses so that people can access them when and where they need them across the UK; cutting specialist nurses is a false economy and the services they provide must be protected.

Demand for these specialist nurses is unprecedented and in some areas of the UK there are major shortages, compromising the care people desperately need.

This includes health visitors and school nurses, neo-natal nurses, district nurses, and nurses working in mental health, cancer and learning disability. People deserve access to specialist nurses, to provide the right quality care and treatment.

The manifesto also called for mandatory regulation of all healthcare support workers throughout the UK, to ensure patient safety.

Healthcare support workers play an increasingly important role as part of a modern nursing service. In order to provide professional recognition and accountability, mandatory regulation must be introduced. The regulation of nursing is equally important for each country of the UK.

The second priority is to value nursing, and for nurses’ and midwives’ pay to keep pace with the cost of living and for protection of terms and conditions of employment for all sectors.

Pay is a critical factor in retaining and recruiting skilled healthcare staff, and nurses and midwives deserve fair pay for the work they do.

The RCN’s members are exhausted and morale is low, with nursing staff under enormous strain being asked to do more with less.

And more nursing staff than ever before are leaving the profession, piling the pressure on people who are already overstretched.

This, coupled with increasing workloads, is affecting the quality of patient care.

The 2017 decision to continue the 1 per cent pay cap for NHS staff in England, Wales and Scotland represents another real-terms cut to pay. It means the gap between nurses’ pay and the cost of living is getting even bigger.

Click here to read exactly how the pay cap is affecting individuals and their families.

Nurses in Northern Ireland are the lowest paid in the UK – and because of the current absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, no pay award for 2017-18 has yet been made.

The RCN is also calling for the right of permanent residence for European Economic Area (EEA) nationals already working in the health and care sector in the UK, and a future immigration system that ensures the UK has rapid access to staff from the EEA and beyond when it needs it.

Official data shows a 95 per cent drop in EU nurses registering with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) since the Brexit vote. In July last year 1,304 came – in April this year, just 46.

The other source of new talent, people coming through UK nursing courses, has also been hit as 2017 marks the first year undergraduates will have to pay tuition fees rising to £9,000.

Official figures are yet to confirm the exact number of would-be nurses starting in September, but data from UCAS points to a 23 per cent reduction on last year.

In new applicants above the age of 25, who bring vital life experience and more often work in the community, where ministers want more care to take place, it is a 26 per cent drop.

With a tightening on the number of new nurses ahead, it is vital to hold on to those already working for the NHS.

The manifesto is also calling for an end to the practice of ‘downbanding’ registered nurses and their substitution with less qualified nursing staff.

Both downbanding and substitution are being used as a way of controlling costs; RCN members say it is now commonplace for unregistered staff to undertake tasks that should be carried out by registered nurses.

The evidence base is clear that degree-educated nurses have a positive impact on reducing mortality rates. Good patient care depends on having a well-staffed, highly qualified workforce. Without experienced staff who provide complex care, the risk to outcomes is too great.

The third priority was investing in health and social care, and more investment in health and care services throughout the UK, especially in community care, public health and wellbeing; and for health and care service design and delivery for communities throughout the UK which value cooperation and collaboration over competition.

Commissioning and transaction costs should never divert critical investment away from frontline services.

And the use of management consultants to advise commissioners and providers to make cuts under the guise of service transformation should not be permitted.

Re-designing services provides a real chance to change ways of working for the better, bringing together fragmented aspects of care and putting people first. But pushes for greater efficiency and pressure to generate savings must never compromise patient safety and quality care.

The RCN’s Chief Executive and General Secretary, Janet Davies, said: “This summer, nurses will show the government how angry they feel over its failure to fund the NHS.

“Protests in dozens of locations will leave Theresa May in little doubt over nurses’ fears for the safety of their patients.

“When NHS and care services are short of staff, patients pay a heavy price. Nursing staff are taking an unprecedented stand and saying ‘enough is enough’. They know the risks of cut-price health care and will not tolerate it.

“Yet ministers appear determined to drive more staff out with a punitive pay policy and lethal cocktail of pressure on services.

“The cap stands in the way of filling 40,000 vacant nurse jobs in England alone.

“Theresa May must put patient safety before political dogma and scrap this cap.”

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