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Government must pay greater attention to making nurses feel valued, report says

Nurses warned shortages were having a negative impact on the quality and safety of patient care.

Too little attention has been given to retaining nurses in the NHS, resulting in more leaving than joining the profession, a report by MPs has found.

Pay, workload pressures, poor access to continuing professional development, and a general sense of not feeling valued were some of the many reasons for the shortfall, the Health Committee said.

Nurses attending focus groups used to compile the report warned the shortages were having a negative impact on the quality and safety of patient care.

Most Government policy has focused on increasing the number of new nurses rather than working to hold on to existing nurses, and it must pay greater attention to making nurses feel valued and to improving morale, the report added.

It recommended that nurses from other EU nations be given further assurances that they would be able to remain in the UK with their families after Brexit, along with the “clear message that they are welcome and appreciated”.

The report said more than 29,000 nurses and midwives left the National Medical Council (NMC) register in 2016/17, up 9% from the previous year. While this has been partially offset by increases in EU nurses working in the UK in the past, this trend has been reversed in the past year.

The committee noted that the UK “depends” on nurses recruited from overseas, and while recognising the need for communication skills, it is “essential” that changes to language testing for overseas nurses must be carefully and regularly monitored to make sure they are not placing unnecessary barriers on them practising.

The report calls for Health Education England (HEE) to reverse cuts to nurses’ continuing professional development budgets, while it welcomed the lifting of the pay cap but said reassurance was needed that funding for the rises would not come out of existing NHS budgets.

It also said the Government needed to closely monitor the impact of the removal of nursing bursaries, adding that it had found evidence that mature students in particular were being put off by the funding changes.

It must also ensure that the newly-created role of Nursing Associate – designed to bridge the gap between healthcare assistants and registered nurses – had a clear professional identity, which the public understood and recognised.

Official figures released on Tuesday showed the number of vacant nursing posts in England reached a new high of 34,260 last year.

The report warned of “particularly worrying” shortfalls in district nursing, mental health and learning disability nursing, and in nursing homes.

“The nursing workforce needs to expand at scale and pace in order to provide high quality care, meet rising demand and reduce unacceptable pressures on existing staff,” the report said.

“Whilst training new nurses is important, there has been a loss of focus on retaining the current workforce.

“The Government must pay greater attention to making nurses feel valued and to improving morale.”

Committee chairwoman, Dr Sarah Wollaston said: “We met many frontline nurses during the course of this inquiry.

“We heard a clear message about workload pressures as well as ideas about how to address these.”

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