Nursing Crisis – Is It Real And What Is It Caused By?

The National Health Service has been described on many occasions to be at “breaking point”. We’re also used to hearing that those working within the NHS are under pressure, that there is a recruitment crisis in many sectors and that there are not enough resources for the number of patients the NHS is expected to treat. So what is the extent of the crisis, and to what degree does it apply to nursing? What can healthcare professionals do to improve both their patients’ care and their own work-life balance?

What is the “nursing crisis”?

Let’s begin by looking at the factors specifically contributing to the so-called “nursing crisis” of today.

Funding cuts

One of the major problems said to be affecting NHS nursing is the cuts to training funding. The removal of bursaries to undergraduate nursing students is said to have had a huge affect on the number of nursing applicants. In 2017, UCAS applications to study nursing dropped by almost 20% to 54,985. This is the lowest number on record.

Recently, it is reported that these cuts are going to extend to postgraduate nursing students. The decision has been widely criticised, with officials noting that this would only worsen the employee deficit – particularly in areas where increased staffing is needed the most, such as mental health nursing and learning disabilities support.

However, with the cuts to undergraduate funding, no fewer places were given out after the removal of bursaries – in fact, the amount of places offered the second highest number on record. To remedy these concerns, the government has just announced a ‘Golden hellos’ scheme, offering postgraduate nurses in high-demand areas a £10,000 grant to cover their study costs.

The recruitment shortfall

University funding is not the only barrier to recruitment, however. Many nurses report that low pay, long working hours, heightened pressure and feelings of worthlessness make them feel that the job is far less appealing than it used to be – especially when paired with student debt.

According to iNews, nurses have taken a pay cut of around £2,500 since 2010, leading professionals to leave the field in their hundreds. This equates to a vacancy rate of 11%, and the impact is being felt – there are currently 40,000 nursing vacancies in England alone.

However, recruitment is not reducing equally across the board – the number of adult and paediatric nurses has actually increased since 2010. However, the number of, say, district nurses or leaning disability workers has dropped significantly.

Additionally, in previous years, EU workers offset the number of nurses leaving the sphere, but in 2017, just 1,107 nurses from the EEA joined the Nursing and Midwifery Council Register – a staggering 90 per cent drop from 2016.

A lack of resources

These changes are said to have a real impact on patients. The Care Quality Commission recently compiled evidence of the effects of staff shortages, including inconsistent diagnosis and management of conditions such as sepsis, a lack of proper infection control and failures to provide essential safety training.

One potential reason for this could be the reduction to NHS funding that has happened over the past two years – from £205 million to £84 million.

The flip side: public satisfaction

However, as FullFact points out, it is far from all doom and gloom in nursing. They report that the Nuffield Trust’s QualityWatch review of NHS in England with the Health Foundation in 2017 found that patient satisfaction was being maintained across the board. Above all else, this is a testament to the dedication and hard work of nurses in the UK, and the impact they are still making on patients’ lives, despite the challenging circumstances.

A solution to the nursing crisis?

So if you’re a nurse, what can you do to improve your own experience of the career so that you can get back to feeling motivated and rewarded for doing a job you love?

Data for England reports that the number of nurses claiming that a lack of work-life balance caused their resignation doubled between 2012/13 and 2015/16. As a result, ideas and schemes to make improvements in this area are popping us all the time. For example, introducing more flexible working patterns could make a huge difference to nursing teams throughout the country.

Nursing within the out-of-hours field is one such way to achieve a more flexible work life balance. Offering an attractive alternative, out-of-hours nursing allows for greater flexibility, a more varied range of cases, and better pay. To find out more about working as an out of hours nurse, contact us today on 03000 243 333.