THE Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, has called on the Government to take urgent action to retain nurses within the profession. She has recommended, among other things, raising mileage payments for staff who travel as part of their work.
Bishop Mullally was the Chief Nursing Officer for the Department of Health under Tony Blair’s Government. After a Royal College of Nursing survey revealed that staffing levels were insufficient to care safely for patients, she said that changes were needed now to recruit and retain nurses, as well as develop their skills.
The report, which spoke of poor staff well-being as well as workplace shortages, was debated in the House of Lords last week.
A survey of 20,000 staff found that 83 per cent of respondents believed that staff levels did not meet patients’ needs. Only one quarter of shifts had the planned number of nurses present.
Bishop Mullally said that many nurses in London hospitals had told her about the impact on their health of working through the pandemic.
“They undertook roles that they had never imagined they would. They coped with staffing levels that were well below what was required, and worked longer hours than they should have done. They did what was required, and we are grateful.”
Patients were presenting at a more advanced stage of illness, owing to late diagnosis, and needing extra care; nurses were retiring early, owing to the pressures that they had experienced; and many nurses from abroad had returned to their home countries during the pandemic, the survey found.
“Nurses are paying the cost with their mental, physical, and spiritual well-being,” Bishop Mullally said. She called for immediate steps to retain nurses, including raising the payment per mile for travel in the course of their work, and providing more funds for professional development and supervision.
There also had to be clear channels for raising concerns when staffing levels were threatening patient care, she said. “No nurse wants to work an understaffed shift: there is a cost to them and to their mental health and spiritual well-being. If a nurse is unable to raise that concern, they are even more conflicted.
“We have asked much of our nurses over the last two and a half years, and they have done what is required. I hope that the Government will now do what is required of them.”
Responding for the Government, the Health and Social Care Minister, Lord Kamall, said that the Government had read the RCN report, and that, although it accepted many points, it questioned others.
The Government, he said, was “well on the way” to fulfilling its pledge to recruit 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament.
The Chief Nursing Officer for England, Dame Ruth May, has said, however, that the pledge is no longer enough to meet the increasing demand.