Dr Spencer Pitfield: Nursing – One of the biggest policy Issues of our time

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In June I was elected as a governor onto the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust. The Trust is one of the largest Foundation Trusts across the country employing approximately 16,000 people and turning-over some £1 billion annually.

I have always wanted to have more clarity about what makes the NHS tick whilst also of course hoping that some of my ideas and insights might help. My early meetings so far have been really quite eye-opening. This country faces some simply huge policy challenges, which are not so many years away. They are very much a problem of the here and now.

The biggest is the need to urgently address is the chronic national shortage of nurses. The government-backed Centre for Workforce Intelligence has predicted that by 2016 the NHS is likely to have 47,500 fewer nurses than it needs. This is a really quite astounding shortage, even if the predicted shortage is out by thousands. We all urgently need to agree that something needs to be done – and fast!

Of course the national debate relating to workforce issues is often commonly around immigration, in this instance ‘foreign nurses’. But the only way to address the nurse shortage is to train enough in this country. Bringing in nurses from overseas quite simply will not sort the problem – excuse the pun, but such an approach is just a sticking plaster.

So why are more people not signing-up to train to be a nurse? The job is deeply rewarding as it makes a direct difference to people’s lives. University degrees are funded fully by the NHS and so fees surely cannot be a barrier to entry into the profession.

I am unsure of the answer to solve this problem. But as a country we must talk more to find it.

This is one of the reasons I was so pleased to join the CWF board and head up policy discussions. This was coincidentally at the same time I was elected a hospital governor. I hope to discuss big issues like this and really make a difference. Nursing is one of those issues we need to tackle.

Dr Spencer Pitfield is a CWF Board Member and past National Director of the Conservative Policy Forum.

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  • commented 2015-08-26 11:04:16 +0100
    Two points occur to me. The first is the new rules on immigration. Nurses salaries are in many cases below the minimum of £35,000 which will allow a person to stay. I do not trust the Border Agency not to pick on nurses and send them out of the country, probably to spite the Government. Nurses should not be repatriated, full stop.
    Secondly, nurses now have to have a degree. There must be many good hearted people who would make wonderful carers who have not got the intellectual talents that would enable them to get a degree. Also, there are some with degrees who consider some of the tasks a nurse has to do to be beneath them. I have no objection to nurses having degrees, but that is not what is necessary to be a good nurse. If this requirement is dropped many more young people will come forward to be nurses – and might even solve the problem of the projected shortage.