Today is Nurses’ Day – a chance to thank all the brilliant nursing staff around the UK who go the extra mile for each of us and our families every day of the year. 12th May is chosen to coincide with Florence Nightingale’s birthday. It’s a reminder of the rich history of nursing in our country.
Nursing is now a highly trained, diverse profession that covers a wide range of specialisations. As Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, I have the privilege to meet nurses working in different settings right across the UK.
I’ve seen the difference that nursing staff make, from school nurses and health visitors who care for us when we are young to care home assistants and geriatrics nurses who care for the old.
The truth is that in many cases it is nurses who are using their experience on the frontline to lead innovations and develop 21st-century approaches to healthcare in our NHS.
For too long, the Conservative government has failed to give nurses the respect and support they deserve. Years of pay restraint and cuts to services have left nurses without the support they need to deliver the best for their patients.
Just this week, Labour forced a vote in the House of Commons against the Tories’ latest cut to the nursing bursary. In the two years since the bursary was scrapped for undergraduate students, applications fell by 33 per cent, with a 42 per cent drop for mature students. As a result, 700 fewer nursing students started training this year.
Ministers are pushing ahead with the new round of cuts to post-graduate nursing funding despite two Government impact assessments finding that women, ethnic minority students and those with low incomes will be disproportionately affected by the change.
The Tories have forced through a series of damaging policies that have been bad for nursing – and bad for patients too. The result is a drastic workforce crisis with more than 40,000 nursing vacancies across England. That figure has more than doubled in the past four years.
Hard-working NHS staff have been taken for granted, and young people are being put off before they have even started. Now Brexit threatens the ability of health employers to recruit from overseas. What is bad for NHS staff is bad for patients too. The Francis Report made an explicit link between staffing levels and patient safety: short staffing means reduced services, cancelled operations, delayed treatments.
To protect the best interests of both staff and patients, I want to put nursing at the centre of Labour’s vision for the NHS. The critical shortage of nurses in the NHS is a threat to patients across the country. By taking action on pay, on staffing levels and on training, Labour in power would give nursing staff the support they need to provide the best possible quality of care to their patients.
Nursing has always been at the heart of the National Health Service – the largest staff group of the NHS workforce, and the most diverse. For the health service to work in the best interests of patients, nurses should be valued and supported as an essential part of the NHS team.
This Nurses’ Day, on behalf of everyone in the Labour movement, I want to say thank you to our dedicated and committed nursing workforce for caring for our families and our communities all year round.
Jon Ashworth is shadow health and social care secretary and MP for Leicester South.