‘Reckless policy’ has left the NHS with almost 4,000 fewer senior nursing posts than 2010, draining valuable leadership, experience and specialist knowledge from the health service.
These are the findings of a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) report. It warns that the health service has been treating staff with years of experience as ‘disposable’ and a quick way to save money, which means specialist clinical knowledge and leadership is being lost just as it is needed more than ever.
Another tactic is ‘down banding’, or forcing senior staff into lower pay grades, the report says. This short-term measure permanently devalues the role and sends a message that experience and leadership is not valued in the NHS.
The report reveals that there are 3,994 fewer full time equivalent (FTE) nursing staff working in senior positions - bands seven and eight - than in April 2010. Staff working at these bands include ward sisters, community matrons, clinical nurse specialists and advanced nurse practitioners.
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the RCN, said: “As the Francis report rightly pointed out, patient care is affected when there are not enough senior nurses to effectively manage wards. When these positions are targeted for cuts, ward managers have less time to develop and support staff.”
Senior nursing staff also act as a vital link between management and clinical staff, the report says, and Carter points out that there is often a lack of communication between management and frontline staff in struggling hospitals.
“Senior nurses are ideally placed to act as a bridge between frontline staff and management, enabling resources to be used where they are most needed.
“In the community, senior and specialist nurses often work with a great deal of autonomy and are often solely responsible for patients. It is these patients who are affected when these posts are removed.
“Just as worrying is the loss of specialist clinical skills and experience which is inevitable when so many band 7 and 8 nursing posts are cut and left vacant. As more patients require complex care from specialist nurses, letting so many years of skills and experience vanish from the NHS is an utterly reckless policy.”
Carter added: “We need to be doing everything we can to retain the skills we have in the NHS rather than using them as a quick and easy way to make savings. These cuts are a short-term attempt by trusts to find efficiency savings, yet they will lead to a very serious and very long-term crisis in our health service.”