The NHS is being increasingly challenged by continuous cuts, strikes and, more recently, the cyber-attack which brought hospitals throughout the country to a standstill. This reminded us all how critical the NHS is to the health of our nation. And, with the general election fast approaching, it is vital that we consider the future of the NHS when deciding which party to vote for.
Areas within the NHS that we feel the next government must address, and which we urge you to consider when voting, include:
A greater focus on mental health
This is your chance to choose a candidate that could make a real difference in the lives of people severely affected by mental illness. Our charity partners Rethink Mental Illness have launched the campaign #speakupformentalillness which calls on all party candidates to address:
- Fair access to mental health services and support, including an urgent review of funding for mental health services and an improvement in the quality of care.
- A Mental Health Act fit for tomorrow. We need a legal system that treats people with severe mental illness with dignity, respect and facilitates recovery.
- Close the mental health employment gap. We need the right support for people that are not well enough to work and those that are trying to get back to work.
- A place to call home for everyone with severe mental illness. We need high quality, appropriate and affordable housing for people with severe mental illness.
For more information on this campaign, visit Rethink’s website.
However, it’s not just the public’s mental health that needs addressing; it’s also the mental health of our NHS staff – amongst which depression and other mental health illnesses are on the rise. A Mind survey found that nearly 90% of NHS primary care workers were stressed and more than 20% had developed serious mental health problems as a result. This has been exacerbated by well-publicised staff shortages. With more demand for healthcare services, and increased pressure to make those services more cost-efficient, workers’ wellbeing is perhaps being sacrificed.
Simon Stevens announced a £5 million plan to tackle health among NHS staff back in 2015. Within that plan, reducing stress was given a renewed focus. But a large number of NHS trusts currently aren’t doing enough. Only 57% of NHS trusts have a plan in place to support the mental wellbeing of their staff.
Tens of thousands of NHS nursing and doctor posts are currently vacant across the UK, with almost every hospital in the UK reporting a shortage of nurses. The government was warned when it removed nursing bursaries and cut support for training that it was risking the future of our NHS. Now the reality is becoming clear – fewer people willing to train to work in our hospitals is putting our health system under even greater strain.
Two factors that are adding to this issue are:
The revised IELTS pass rate, introduced by the NMC in January 2016 for overseas nurses, has seen a huge decrease in EU recruitment. Hundreds of international nurses are unable to take up job offers because the language testing expected of them (IELTS Academic level 7.0) is not only too high, but also not entirely relevant to their profession. This is stalling recruitment to fill crucial vacancies and also putting patient care at risk.
The consensus seems to be that Brexit will discourage applications from overseas nurses, especially those from within the EU. Channel 4’s Dispatches reported that, in the months since Brexit, almost 5,455 EU staff left their posts in England. If this continues, nurses already working in the UK will face being even more short-staffed and overworked.
The wider impact of mounting staff shortages will likely translate into an NHS with service levels and patient care much lower than we have come to know and expect.
Stability for EU workers
Since the announcement of the BREXIT referendum last year, the government has failed to guarantee that EU staff already working in the NHS can stay and whether recruitment from EU countries can continue. The fact remains that the NHS relies heavily on these workers to fill vacancies for which we do not have enough home-grown staff. Currently:
– 35% of NHS doctors were born abroad and the UK relies more on foreign doctors than any other major EU nation
– 55,000 of NHS England staff are citizens of other EU countries
– EU immigrants make up 5% of all NHS staff
Channel 4’s Dispatches also reported that 66% of EU staff are worried about their career in the NHS:
Stability for EU staff = stability for our NHS
Staff flexibility and workforce planning
In 2014, all UK employees were granted the legal right to request flexible working hours. But, in the drastically understaffed NHS, the question of flexibility is more complicated.
Let’s look at the nursing workforce as an example; due to massive staff shortages, every NHS trust in the UK is desperate to find ways to attract and retain more nurses. Offering flexibility is of course one such method. However, overwhelmed hospitals are dealing with frontline shortages that are threatening to endanger patient safety. Such frontline and emergency shortages require flexibility and there has never been so much pressure on trusts to look at other ways of managing their staffing levels. One way of achieving this is through efficient workforce planning and the use of e-rostering tools.
E-rostering systems allow trusts to maintain and operate rosters that meet patient, staff and organisational needs. NHSI has recognised that a firmer grip of rostering will improve the predictability and consistency of staff deployment even where recruitment is still a challenge.
When implemented correctly, e-rostering systems can also have a massive impact on the lives of NHS staff. E-rostering tools, such as ClarityRoster, are configured to ensure safe staffing levels at all times. This allows staff to easily swap shifts and book in annual leave without having to worry about compromising patient care.
The technology to achieve this already exists, but the NHS must invest in their IT infrastructure to allow trusts and staff to benefit.
While these challenges may seem colossal, the reality is they are not. We simply need to use our voice to let the government know that we care about the future of NHS and demand that they make it a priority – now and always.
If we could leave you with one simple message, it would be:
A vote for the NHS is a vote for the future of our nation’s health