I WOULD challenge the headline and content of Helend McArdle’s article (“Wanted: Caring nurses to help outr ageing society”, The Herald, March 17) in your Grey Matters series on two counts. Firstly, the headline raises the assumption we do not currently have ”caring” nurses and secondly it raises the same old chestnut that we do not really need graduate registered nurses (RNs).
Professor Alan Boyter, recently retired NHS director of HR, has called for “an end to the professionalisation of nursing by opening up the career to those with college qualifications as the profession grapples with a looming retirement time bomb and increasing numbers of long term vacancies”. This is in the context of increasing demands on healthcare services with more acute and complex care needs as the population ages.
The fact that we are in a “demographic time bomb” of ageing nurses and patients has been evident for decades and should have been planned for, yet it is currently seen as the primary root of all NHS problems. Diluting the skill mix of the nursing workforce further with the proposed non-graduate RNs to “end the professionalisation of nursing” is not the answer. I believe this would be used as an excuse to the reduce the profession to the lowest common denominator simply because of current budgetary constraints with little regard for the evidence that patients do better with the right numbers of skilled professional RNs. Nursing as a profession needs to move forward not backwards.
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What we need is funding and investment for more staff in general with more graduate RNs and more skilled staff in nursing support roles to meet the constantly changing and challenging care needs nurses face now and will in the future, otherwise we will face the same problem repeatedly in the years to come as demographics change and the retirement age is pushed back. Prof Boyter feels there is the lack of opportunities for individuals to pursue a nursing career because of the entry requirements to graduate programmes. There are, however, several gateways to enter RN education such as nursing access courses, foundation programmes, Scottish Wider Access Programmes, HNC/HND entry level and nursing associate and degree apprenticeships are in the pipeline.
With regard to unfilled posts the total vacancy rate is four per cent and one per cent for posts vacant for the months. As Prof Boyter will know, nursing vacancies have and always will be used as a non-recurring means of managing budgets.
We will never be able to keep politics out of the NHS but we need those in positions of authority, influence and expertise to stand up to political policy that hampers planning and progress. The gradual annual reduction in student intakes in Scotland from a peak of 3698 in 2003/04 to a low of 2713 in 2012/13 to the current 3164 in 2015/16; removal of student nurse bursaries in England, pay freezes, and a failure to legislate on minimum nurse staffing levels are some examples of a lack of joined-up thinking for the future of the profession.
131 Shuna Street, Glasgow.