Parliamentary sketch – The Penny Has Dropped – A Campaign Success!

Posted on: 22nd November 2013

I admit. This is a rare occasion. (I hope you are all sitting down!) I am going to congratulate the Government!

After years of campaigning and highlighting the risks being taken with patient care on hospital wards by having too few registered nurses, the Government has finally begun the process of a gracious u-turn and accepted an important recommendation of the Commons Health Select Committee, of which I am member.

From April next year all hospitals will have to publish details of whether they have enough nurses on their wards, and that the judgement of whether there are “enough” cannot solely be made by hospital managers who, in some cases, have been accused of massaging or masking the figures.

Having been a lone voice in arguing that most of the highly publicised cases of poor care on hospital wards may have more to do with inadequate registered nurse staffing levels than callous or unprofessional nursing standards I have found this argument dismissed and rebuffed.

Over the last couple of years I have been working with the Safe Staffing Alliance -whose membership includes the Royal College of Nursing, the Florence Nightingale Foundation, the Patients’ Association and many others – to support their campaign for safe staffing on hospital wards.

Meanwhile, hardly a month goes by without the nursing profession being dragged into the media spotlight as a result of one report or another, and especially in the aftermath of the extended public inquiry into Mid Staffs. Most of this has left a shadow of doubt, suspicion and accusations over standards in the nursing profession, even though most of the media are confused about the role of nurses, conflate their role with that of care assistants and too often rush to judgement that the system has created a new army of nurses who are somehow trained to be less caring, less considerate and more callous than their predecessors.

Of course I’m not excusing examples of poor, unprofessional or callous nursing standards. Amongst the army of 320,000 nurses working in the NHS, just as in other walks of life, there will be a few who fall below acceptable standards and, of course, this should not be tolerated.

But I have queried whether the concerns being raised are as much if not more a question of resource (i.e. how many nurses there are) as it is of quality. I have found that when senior officials, Ministers and health chiefs are questioned about the subject they invariably retreat into banal management babble – i.e. it’s not about nurse numbers, it’s about “culture” and “leadership”.

Yet even the most sophisticated culture and charismatic leadership cannot paper over the reality that patient outcomes are often compromised where overstretched nurses cannot cope when there aren’t enough of them on the ward.

So for the past couple of years I have been raising questions, pursuing a debate, demanding answers and forming a relationship with campaigners in the nursing profession, including the Safe Staffing Alliance to press this case.

The Safe Staffing Alliance has recommended that there should be “never more than eight” patients to each registered nurse (excluding the nurse in charge) on each acute hospital ward.

So, this week, I am delighted to report that the Government has responded positively to the Health Select Committee’s recommendation which is the first and important step on the road for acknowledging that there must be adequate registered nurse staffing on our hospital wards.

You can contact Andrew George by email: His constituency office can be contacted at Trewella, 18 Mennaye Road, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 4NG. Telephone: 01736 360020.

Andrew George MP
Kernow a’n West ha Syllan
West Cornwall and the Scillies
Kwartron Porthia
Constituency of St Ives
Tel: 01736 360020
Fax: 01736 332866

19th November 2013

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