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An (Un)Certain Future- Staff Shortages in the NHS

An (Un)Certain Future- Staff Shortages in the NHS

01 Dec 00:00 by Richard Fox

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On the 16th of January, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued a draft guideline for NHS A&E departments. Commissioned by the Department of Health and NHS England, this guideline is just one of a series to help promote safe staffing practices in the NHS. Truly, the new draft couldn’t have come at a better time: The NHS is in the middle of a staffing crisis.

The holidays showed us some of the longest A&E wait times in over a decade, operation cancellations and delayed discharges have increased 20% over the past year, the latest RCN Labour Market Review is titled “An Uncertain Future,” and awful stories of patients’ bad experiences continue to permeate the news.

The future, however, is not so uncertain. We all know we need quality, reliable staff in our hospitals, private clinics, and nursing homes. There will never come a time when medical professionals are not a necessary asset to a functional, cooperative society. Thus the question becomes: What can we do about the shortage?

The demand for services within A&E departments has been on the rise over the past ten years, with over 14 million people visiting an Accident & Emergency in England alone in 2014. As millions of people of varying illness and injury pour through hospital doors, it is absolutely imperative to have staff capable of handling the fluctuating degree of severity and the shifts in attendance. NICE recommends no more than four patients to each registered nurse. With the introduction of these guidelines, NHS trusts are prompted to publish their data so that staff know their needs are being met and so patients can rest assured that staff are able to cope with demand.

Putting too much pressure on nursing staff is a sure fire way to display our perception of their worth. Having a better idea of standard nursing requirements allows for more clarity when it comes down to funding, as well. A look at running statistics can help any institution predict staffing budget requirements – unfortunately, since financial decisions are not made by the people affected the most, we must actively seek elected officials who understand this priority.

That is the only uncertainty when it comes to medical staffing. Without the right people in charge, we could see the efficacy of the NHS reduced to rubble: an outcome no one wants to experience.

The final guideline draft will be available from NICE around May, but even the draft should serve to open our eyes. Examining the framework of a competent system is only the first step in providing exemplary service to the general population. No one is immune to illness or accidents, and each ailing individual should be receiving the same standard of care – the idea that there is another option is almost comical.

So what can we do about the shortage? Ask our elected officials to prioritise the health and well-being of their people and treat nursing staff like the heroes they are. When morale is good, turnover rates shorten. When someone is paid well and acknowledged, morale is boosted. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle… We just need to get it rolling again.