04/07/2017 09:24 BST | Updated 04/07/2017 09:24 BST

Nurses Are Still Paying The Price


The most worrying thing about the NMC's figures is that they are not a surprise; if anything they have been expected for quite some time. With pay miles behind inflation, working conditions at rock bottom and pressures only rising there's no longer a need to question of why nurses are leaving. What we need to do is work out what can be done to keep them.

As with so many issues, funding lies at its centre. This should not be the case. Nurses have not entered the profession for huge salaries - they have come to it because they love caring for patients. However, a degree qualified professional deserves at least to be paid fairly for their hard work and right now this is miles from the case.

After seven years of pay restraint, nurses are still paying the price and their pay has fallen 14% being the cost of living. Some nurses have lost £3,000 a year in real terms and the stories of full time nurses resorting to food banks, pay day loans and hardship grants are coming thick and fast.

And what happens when they appeal to the Government? They are simply told there is 'no magic money tree'.

The situation doesn't just impact on nurses - it reaches throughout the health service. As more and more nurses are unable to afford to stay in the profession, staff numbers are plummeting everywhere from hospital wards to community services, and patient care is suffering as a result.

Nursing staff now tell us that they are so stretched at work that they can no longer deliver the care they came into the role to provide. Instead we hear stories of chronic burn-out, with nurses having to take periods of leave to handle the immense stress they are under. They work 12 hour shifts without breaks, many also staying late to finish work they just haven't had time to do.

And all to return home to the financial struggles the pay cap has pushed them into.

What the NMC figures have also shown is that the number joining the profession is unable to keep up with the amount leaving it. This is a trend that shows no signs of slowing. Not only has the Government refused to pay nursing staff a sustainable wage - they have also removed all funding for student nurses, instead leaving them to the student loan system.

In effect, potential nurses are now asked to build up thousands of pounds of debt before entering an under-paid profession. It doesn't take an economist to see this is hardly an alluring option and the proof is in the pudding - applications have already fallen by a quarter since the funding was removed.

The solution is not solely financial; the NHS is reaching crisis point and it will take more than a cash injection to bring it back to life. However, having enough nurses to deliver safe and effective care should be the utmost priority and it is clear that this is not going to happen while the cap is still in place.

By paying nurses what they deserve however, the Government can keep these highly skilled, hard-working people in the profession they love and in doing so, give patients the care they need. It's the bare minimum we should expect from those leading the country.

Josie Irwin, Head of Employment Relations at the Royal College of Nursing