The staff shortage in the NHS is building into a crisis that cannot be overlooked in a Brexit-only election. But how to combat it? That is the question we will ask our political leaders and Labour has been the first to try to answer it today.
At the core of the nursing shortage is a widespread decline in morale. The demand for our health services is reaching new heights and across the country nursing staff are under more pressure than ever before.
However, many feel their efforts to keep the NHS afloat have gone ignored by the current Government.
The 1% cap on nursing salaries has meant their pay has fallen by 14% in real terms since 2010. As a result, even full time nursing staff are having to rely on pay-day loans, food banks and hardship grants just to afford every day expenses like food and rent.
It shouldn't be too much to ask that those working all hours to care have peace of mind that their pay is keeping up with the cost of living.
Nursing staff love their jobs. It's a passionate profession. But their skills and their dedication have gone unrecognised for too long, and the results can be seen in the spiralling numbers of vacant posts. They are retiring early, they are moving to agencies or they are changing professions completely because they feel it is just not worth it anymore.
Equally damaging has been the removal of the nursing bursary. Since the withdrawal of student funding for nurses, there's been a 23% drop in applications for nursing degrees. The biggest drop - 28% - is in applications from mature students, exactly the people whose life experience often makes for highly skilled, compassionate nurses.
That means talented people staying away, and patients missing out, as student loans and pitiful pay deter more and more prospective nurses from joining the profession.
The effect on patients is just as worrying. As nurses are forced out of the profession just to make ends meet, staffing levels in the health service are reaching dangerous lows and putting patient safety at risk.
Health care teams will always do all they can for their patients, but without the staff, the resources and the support they need, there are limits. If the Government wants to look after its patients, it needs to look after its staff.
Whichever political party triumphs in June, it is time to stop taking nursing staff for granted and start to appreciate the incredible work they do. The RCN is calling on all parties to step up and commit to the long-term funding that patients and services need.
The RCN is currently surveying members on how to respond to the Government's continued 1% pay cap. For more information please visit the RCN website.