Norfolk nurses demand end to staffing crisis with thousands of vacancies in the east
PUBLISHED: 12:31 19 July 2019 | UPDATED: 12:31 19 July 2019
Norfolk nurses joined colleagues from across the country in parliament to demand an end to the staffing crisis they say is putting patients at risk.
Helen Oatham, a mental health nurse from Norwich, Natalie Brooks, a nurse from Great Yarmouth, and University of East Anglia (UEA) nursing student Siobhann Leviton joined more than 50 other nursing staff and students to meet 115 MPs and peers from all parties to discuss their experiences at a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) event.
The RCN is launching a campaign for new legislation to make government and NHS bosses explicitly accountable for safely staffing health and care services.
One in ten nursing positions in the NHS in England alone are unfilled, leaving a shortfall of around 40,000 nurses, including thousands in the east of England. The RCN says more than 10,000 nurses and midwives from EU27 countries have quit the NHS since the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Miss Leviton, who spoke to her MP Labour's Clive Lewis at the event, said: "I think there does need to be an element of understanding that we need students coming through - the number of students has dropped drastically. We need nurses to be supported and an understanding that making do isn't good enough anymore.
"I'm a student nurse - this is a profession I'm coming into. I already know at least two students who have dropped out because they couldn't afford to carry on the course.
"In my placements I've had to be used as an extra pair of hands and I don't mind that but it means that at times I've lost learning opportunities because I've been helping with patients.
"That's what I want to do but I also need to learn to be a nurse. I would hate to be in a position where I'm a qualified nurse and I'm struggling with too many patients and I cannot maintain safe care."
Miss Oatham, who works for Norfolk and Suffolk Wellbeing , said: "As a mental health nurse from Norfolk and I wanted to attend this event as while many of the challenges of safe staffing are similar across the different specialities of nursing, I think it's important that the particular impacts of these are recognised in mental health. For example in mental health it is particularly important for patients to be able to develop therapeutic and trusting relationships when they are acutely unwell and potentially feeling unsafe.
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"Frequent variations in staff or staff that are too pressurised to spend periods of one-to-one therapeutic time can impact on the development of these relationships and therefore the person's recovery.
"For me safe and effective staffing is a complex issue and involves a number of factors. Crucial is the willingness to understand these and the commitment to do something about them."
Miss Brooks, who has been helping lead the planning of the safe staffing campaign in the area, said: "The event was a great opportunity to speak to MPs about the nursing staff crisis in the UK and how we need to take action now.
"We talked to MPs about the lack of accountability for staffing and how we need action and legislation to support staffing for safe and effective care so we have right amount of nurses in the right place at the right time. To do this the first thing that needs to be done is more funding for student nurses."
The RCN is also campaigning for investment of at least £1bn a year in nurse education, to attract and retain a new generation of nurses and make nursing a viable career option for people from all backgrounds.
Teresa Budrey, RCN eastern regional director, said: "Health and social care services throughout the region are reaching a tipping point, with nurses routinely working many hours of unpaid overtime to deliver the care people need.
"This puts nurses under impossible strain and puts patients at risk. We are clear that this is because there is no explicit accountability in law to ensure that there are enough professionals - with the right skills mix, in the right place, at the right time - to provide safe and effective care to patients across England.
"Our members had a clear message for the government - change the law so that health and care services are not starved of much-needed health care staff."
The event was sponsored by Sir Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, and Baroness Watkins of Tavistock.
To support the RCN campaign visit www.rcn.org.uk/employment-and-pay/safe-staffing/staffing-for-safe-and-effective-care