Brexit, difficult working conditions, and scrapped training bursaries contribute to loss of nurses
- Credit: PA
A nursing leader has painted a bleak picture of the conditions nurses in East Anglia are working under, as it was revealed one in 10 leave the profession every year.
Figures from NHS Digital showed more than 33,000 nurses walked away last year - 3,085 of them in the east of England, which is more than the 2,933 who joined.
But Teresa Budrey, regional director of the Royal College of Nursing, said the fact the numbers are almost equal should not put minds at ease, as more nurses were needed overall to cope with increased pressure. Ms Budrey said: 'If we look at the figures it looks almost equal but we can't afford for those nurses to leave. We need those leavers to stay and for new nurses to come in.'
She said there were around 4,000 vacancies for registered nurses across the region, but that the career would not seem appealing due to pay freezes and poor conditions.
'Our nurses in the eastern region tell us they working long hours, not having a break, treating patients in ambulances, treating patients in corridors. They say they're not getting drinks or time to go to the loo,' she said.
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She said Brexit also played a part in why nurses were leaving, as well as those born in the 1960s now reaching their retirement age.
'We do know Brexit is having an impact, because our European nurses are de-registering and there's not more coming. We've had European nurses say they feel bullied,' she said.
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But Elizabeth Spires, matron at Beccles Hospital, said she would still recommend nursing as a career.
Mrs Spires, 57, has been a nurse for 20 years. She said: 'Some things go full circle, and the pressure on the NHS is just increasing year on year. I think fundamentally nurses have not changed, nurses wanting to care for our patients has not changed. But a nurse's role has changed.'
Mrs Spires, who lives in Ruskin Avenue, Gorleston, said she could now write prescriptions, a role which did not exist when she first registered.
'But I love it,' she said. 'I love the challenge. I love rising to the challenge and I will always care for my patients to the best of my ability.'
For those coming into nursing, she said there were plenty of opportunities to learn. She added: 'You will find your niche.'
Gemma Bull, from Great Yarmouth, qualified 18 months ago and is a community staff nurse working in Lowestoft with East Coast Community Healthcare.
Mother-of-two Mrs Bull, 31, trained at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and said she would encourage anyone to go into nursing. She said: 'It was something I was always going to do when I left school, but I had a family and was bringing my kids up. But I always wanted to do it, I love helping people.'
She said one of the privileges of her job was helping people die with dignity.
'It sounds morbid but people who are dying, we help fulfil their wishes to be able to die at home and be symptom free with their families. You give a lot of support to patients,' she said.
Kelly Sutton, of Hubbards Loke, Lenwade qualified in September and now works as a community staff nurse for Norfolk Community Health and Care (NCHC).
The 29-year-old said she was not put off the profession by stories of hard work and long hours. She said: 'It's not been easy but the team is so supportive. I would say to anyone go for it, it's a privilege to be able to do this job. I wish now I had done it a lot of years ago.'
Call to reinstate bursaries
Another factor was the removal of bursaries for nursing students, which took hold last year.
Katrina Emerson, associate dean of admissions at the UEA faculty of medicine and health, and Emma Sutton, the faculty's associate dean of teaching and learning, said the move had hit recruitment hard.
Ms Emerson said this was particularly true of those coming into the profession later in life. She said: 'These people find the idea of taking on a huge loan off-putting, so what we see is a drop in these numbers.'
Ms Sutton said while other universities had stopped a January intake - where traditionally more mature students applied - UEA had continued. She said: 'But it is a diminished intake. The numbers are down but we are committed to wanting to continue because there's a huge value.'
Both said numbers could be bolstered by reinstating the bursary.
Number of routes into nursing
Director of nursing at James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) in Gorleston, Julia Hunt, said the profession had changed drastically in her time.
And although conditions and the severity of illness were different, there were also positive changes in the variety of ways to get into the career.
She pointed to a full-time degree, part-time degree, apprenticeships or two new scholarships introduced at JPUH.
She said: 'Recruitment is key and it is still an issue and it is a problem with our trust. Being on the east coast is good because the workforce is less transient, that's positive in one respect. But then we've got to attract people to come here too.'
She said this meant making sure there were opportunities to progress and flourish.
And she also said it was about being more flexible and talking to nurses about how they find it best to work.
At the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King's Lynn chief nurse Emma Hardwick said they were keen to attract nurses from the Philippines and India. And they had a number of initiatives in place to retain nurses.
Ms Hardwick said: 'The hospital is also taking part and running a number of open days to encourage newly qualified and registered nursing staff to join us. We held an open day in the autumn which proved to be successful.
'We are also supporting the recently launched Love West Norfolk campaign, which is promoting the benefits of living in this area, across the country.
'We offer a number of programmes to develop our nursing staff such as preceptorship schemes and a comprehensive training program. Nurses are also able to rotate to different specialisms and wards to increase their skill competencies along with other continuous professional development schemes.
'Last year, the QEH along with Norfolk Community Health and Care and the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, launched an 18-month higher level nursing apprenticeship scheme. At the end of this course, students will become assistant practitioners and have the opportunity to study further to become a registered nurse if they wish. The trust has also supported a number of health care assistants on their Open University nursing courses.'
Director of workforce at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Jeremy Over, added: 'NNUH is a great place to work. We are one of the biggest employers of nurses in the east of England with over 2,000 caring and dedicated nursing professionals as part of our team. Recruitment and retention is going well, the number of registered nurses we employ has increased by over a hundred compared with a year ago and is currently the largest it has ever been.
'We have been less reliant on international recruitment in comparison with some other hospitals due to the excellent relationship we have with the University of East Anglia – we are the most popular place for UEA nursing graduates to come and work. In addition to this rich supply of new nursing talent we also undertake regional and national recruitment, and currently have a project to recruit a small number of nurses from outside of the UK.
'Our focus on retention covers many aspects of what it's like to work here including access to flexible rostering, training and education, rotation and promotion. The size of our organisation means that many such opportunities exist and there are countless examples of nurses developing new skills and extending their professional practice to provide the best patient care.'
Anna Morgan, director of nursing and quality at NCHC said: 'Now is the best time to choose a career in nursing. We have introduced a career pathway through an apprenticeship route for those people that didn't have the opportunity to go straight to university to become a nurse.
'We have very motivated, highly skilled staff who can become a nurse in either two years or four years depending on their experience and a new opportunity to join our trust to become a nurse while learning on the job. I started my career as a cadet nurse at 17 and would still thoroughly recommend it.'