Belfast Telegraph

Nurses losing patience warns RCN boss as Northern Ireland staff talk of strike

Warning: Dame Donna Kinnair
Warning: Dame Donna Kinnair

By Jane Kirby

The goodwill of nurses is "being abused" while the Government fails to solve the NHS staffing crisis, the head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will say.

In her first speech to the RCN's annual conference this week, its chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair will say there is a human cost in failing to plug the gaps in the nursing workforce.

It comes after nurses in Northern Ireland threatened to strike.

A newly qualified nurse here will earn £1,419 less than their counterpart in England and Wales, and £1,875 less than in Scotland.

Earlier this year it was reported that there are 1,400 unfilled nursing posts in Northern Ireland and health trusts use expensive agency staff to fill the gaps.

She will also accuse NHS bosses in England of quietly dropping publicly-available data which shows the proportion of registered nurses on NHS wards.

In March, a report from the Nuffield Trust, Health Foundation and King's Fund said more than 30,000 extra nurses are already needed in England, but this will rise to nearly 70,000 nurses within five years.

After a decade, the gap could be 100,000.

Dame Donna will tell 3,000 delegates at the RCN conference in Liverpool that the Government "must return the £1 billion" it took from nursing education.

She will say: "We will not stop until people are held to account for the desperate shortages each and every one of us has witnessed. Politicians must stop short-changing the public.

"They must stop the rot and put an end to the workforce crisis in nursing.

"Rather than only looking at the cost of educating and employing nurses, the Government must think about the true cost - financial and human - of not doing it.

"Employers, decision-makers and ministers with the power to change things should not let individual nurses take the blame for systemic failings.

"The goodwill of nursing staff is being abused and politicians must know it is running out."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: "The NHS runs on the dedication and commitment of our wonderful nurses, who work tirelessly to provide the highest quality of care for their patients.

"There are over 16,900 more nurses on our wards since 2010, with 52,000 more in training - and as part of our Long Term Plan we are improving staff retention by promoting flexibility, wellbeing and career development and helping more nurses return to practice."

"As well as providing funding to increase university training places, we will set out a full NHS People Plan later this year to ensure the health service has the staff it needs for the future."

The leader of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland said last week that members may be driven to take unprecedented industrial action after successive health ministers and civil servants ignored warnings of a "perfect storm".

Pat Cullen said the shortage of nurses is now so bad that patients face waits for bedpans, basic observations are not being carried out and dying patients are not getting proper care.

Public service Unison has also said it cannot rule out strike action as pay talks with health bosses continue.

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