THE NHS relies on nurses. Whether they are on wards, making house calls or working in GP clinics they are the cogs which keep the system working
This week we celebrated International Women’s Day. I think that is a good time to point out that 89 percent of nurses and health visitors are women. Nurses have always been held in high esteem by the general public but this has increased significantly during the last year as we have seen the tired, bruised and sometimes tearful faces of those working at least 12 hour shifts on Covid wards – not forgetting all those healthcare workers who lost their own lives to this illness.
Which is why I, as a doctor, want to support all those calling for a better pay increase for nurses.
The one per cent offered by the Government is just not enough.
But putting such comparisons aside, I also think it is a false economy to say we ‘cannot afford’ to pay nurses more when data gathered shows the millions of pounds each year paid by NHS trusts to nursing agencies. It is better to proactively combine a happy workforce and efficient working methods than have to react to problems at the last minute.
There does not need to be a pay rise across the whole of the health service. There are plenty of people on decent salaries already who should be happy to sit back and allow their lower-paid frontline colleagues to get a salary increase.
But not having the nurses filling the permanent positions in hospitals and community services actually ends up costing more money. When nurses are hired through an agency, the hourly rate is much higher than would be paid to a permanent member of staff, or a nurse doing overtime, on what hospitals call ‘Bank’ nursing. This is because the agency takes a large chunk of the money allocated to pay nursing and health care assistants’ wages.
One London Trust spent £5.5 million in the first five months of the last financial year on temporary nursing and midwifery cover alone.
Wouldn’t that be better spent on better salaries for happy, dedicated members of nursing staff?
While doing research on how GPs can make reviews for long term conditions – such as asthma and diabetes – more efficient, my colleagues and I had to take into consideration the likelihood of a busy GP practice needing to hire a locum nurse.
As the end of the year comes around and Government targets need to be met, there is a rush as primary care strives to deliver the services to its patients. And it often requires the use of temporary staff to meet the need. That is the reality of life currently in the NHS and while I believe it can change to become more efficient, it’s like turning round an oil tanker rather than steering a rowing boat.
I don’t believe that the answer to all problems in the NHS is ‘more money’ or ‘more people’ – I think a lot of improvements can be done using technology: just think how the use of text message booking services have made the covid vaccination programme: the ethos at the heart of this use of digital technology can be used across the NHS.
But at the heart of clever software and slick IT systems which save clinicians and patients time has to be a clinically trained member of staff.
I believe one way to both show nurses that we value their work and stop the huge cost of agency staff would be to pay our nurses more to begin with. Another is to adopt working methods which make their lives – and thus those of their patients – easier.
Authored by Dr Jay Verma, a GP in North West London and clinical advisor for Medloop.