With Change Comes New Beginnings…
As the National Transforming Workforce Lead For Nursing my aspiration for 2020 was looking forward to a year of celebrating nursing, in this ‘The International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.’ Nursing was finally being given a platform to showcase the profession, as nurses in the main are not known for blowing their own trumpets -being a nurse is simply what they do. However, we find ourselves celebrating the invaluable work nurses have done, and continue to do, as a direct result of the new reality we are living in.
Historically nurse leadership has been core to ensuring progress, quality care and recognition for nursing achievements and this was highlighted in my March nursing blog around inspirational leaders, which is hard believe was only last month.
Over recent years the nursing profession has however shown signs of erosion, with a decline in nurse applicants across the country, particularly in the school leaver age group and an increase in experienced staff leaving in advance of their retirement date, and in some sectors leaving in advance of the early retirement date. There was recognition that both the NHS and social care sector were facing increasing pressures on services, compounded by a significant number of vacancies across medical, nursing and allied health professionals and social care staff, resulting in critical concerns around recruitment, retention and sustainability. The reduction in university applications in nurse training in some rural areas had also resulted to some degree of sustainability issues for pre and post registration education.
There was therefore a concerted effort and desire to transform roles to manage our changing demographics. The formation of Health and Social Care Partnerships (HSCP) ideally were to address this and support our frontline workforce. Transformational programmes were being adopted across all sectors to ensure the future sustainability of the workforce, from changes to nurse education to primary and secondary care restructures. Working across different professions and sectors to achieve this had resulted in slow progress for true integration, as there was limited alignment of budgets, competing agendas and a significant lack of understanding of the pressures staff were under, which has led to demotivation and low morale, with staff leaving as a result of this.
Burnout had reached an all-time high. This was highlighted within a number of reports and surveys since the inception of integration in 2015. According to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Employment Survey in 2019, pressures have increased year on year. A high majority of nurses were feeling continuously under pressure, with ninety per cent saying that they frequently worked through their breaks and sixty-three per cent saying that they were too busy to provide the level of care they would like. Most concerning was that seventy-nine per cent of nursing staff felt that staffing levels at their place of work were insufficient to meet patient needs and seventy-seven per cent felt that patient care was compromised throughout the month due to short-staffing. Nurses had become fearful of losing their registrations and in light of this the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) had finally recognised the need for a support phone line to prevent further distress and mental health issues within nurses.
The year started in a state of crisis, however there was also a real sense of hope and positivity that we could improve the global recruitment and retention of frontline staff under the light of the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife .We had a prime opportunity to show the public, alongside existing and future staff the good work being done in our NHS hospitals, but as importantly our communities, especially our care homes, who were providing quality care in a homely setting to an increasing number of people with significant health issues. These were physical and psychological, with dementia and frailty now being the key reasons for admission.
Little consideration had previously been given to social care nursing, often thought of as the Cinderella Service, with nurses and carers often viewed as less academically qualified, lacking leadership skills and not providing specialist care. There is no doubt nurses who work within the sector have high levels of compassion and empathy but alongside this have high levels of leadership, autonomy and expertise, and possess professional academic achievements which would challenge any specialism. Despite the desire not to promote care homes as clinical areas, this has no reflection on the quality of clinical care provided within a holistic ethos.
Then came something that would test everything, a coronavirus pandemic.
The last 6 weeks have without question witnessed the greatest level of transformation that health and social care has ever seen. No longer was there time to debate or mull over ideas or options but instead there needed to be a national pulling-together to manage a crisis that had the potential to cause destruction on a level never seen before in our lifetimes. Nursing had responded to many events in history, however at no point in time would our services and ability to care be challenged to this degree.
Sadly, the downside would be that lives would be lost on a global scale and it was imperative that those dependent on our services would have access to the appropriate care and be given the necessary dignity and respect at this time, underpinned by safe practice, compassion and honesty. Nursing was now under the microscope and being catapulted into a new world which required immediate action.
To prevent further decline in our nursing workforce an emergency recruitment campaign aimed at those staff who had left the register in the last 3 years to return during this crisis resulted in approximately 8000 nurses and midwives rejoining the register. This has most recently been further extended to staff who have left up to 5 years ago, which accounts for approximately another 40,000 staff and around a further 1,800 overseas staff. Included in this was the redeployment of staff to the key areas as well as emergency recruitment of nursing students in their final 6 months of training and subsequently 2nd year students also, who both had the choice to opt in or out. This was a request that has caused a lot of deliberation for qualified staff, as well as students. This level of change, alongside delays in information around use and access to PPE, testing and shielding of staff has resulted in our nurses and carers working within extreme physical and psychological situations , further stretching staff who had already been working above and beyond. NHS was rightly the initial priority area for staff redeployment, however due to matching staff skills we now have staff and students placed within our care homes, which has been welcomed and hopefully strengthens our existing workforce.
The degree of media coverage has been welcomed but needs to remain balanced. However, this has finally positively highlighted that our care home staff are key frontline staff, covering the determination, devotion, knowledge and skills of our social care workforce against the sad reality of the impact to the sector. We are seeing a move to more community integration and resilience, with clinical in-reach to our care homes supported by our hard working ,often under recognised community nursing teams, who have been instrumental in being the conduit between NHS, HSCP’s and social care.
As this virus predominantly attacks people over the age of 75 years it is unavoidable that we continue to see this demand and incidence within social care and within our communities during lockdown. Nurses and carers have been there from the beginning trying to manage the care of their residents with empathy and ensure advocacy for all those under their care, at all times. With this has come great frustration and impact on the health and wellbeing of residents and their family due to being isolated throughout lockdown. Staff have been left feeling helpless and unprepared at times to deal with their own emotional and psychological issues due to the loss they have witness and the need to continue to provide quality care, whilst struggling themselves.
Our care sector has sadly seen a continual increase in residents losing their lives to covid-19 and in some areas experiencing cluster outbreaks, this has had a significant impact on wellbeing. Care home staff provide an excellent level of care and especially in relation to palliative and end of life care, after all it is the last thing we can do for our residents.
In recognition of this nurses have united to ensure the people within our communities receive the optimum care during this time and are utilising every guidance and resource available in relation to infection control, palliation and also around wellbeing and mental health for staff and residents alike. This has become increasingly important during this pandemic due to the reduced contact with families and decisions that have had to be made to protect people. One of most distressing elements of this reality is some families have not been able to be there when their relative was dying. This has been due to the protective restrictions which were necessary over the last few weeks. However, the humanity shown by our nurses and carers has been a welcomed comfort to families, to know their loved ones have not died alone. As guidance and knowledge around infection control and use of PPE improves this will hopefully not prevent any other families from being together with their loved one at the end of life.
The facts are that despite the unbelievable pressures put upon our staff they continue to come to work each day, do overtime, with some staying within the care homes to minimise risk. This has resulted in positive realisation of the work our staff do, despite minimum wage, they do the job cause they genuinely care, the key requirement of anyone wanting a career in care. Unfortunately, some staff have also lost their lives across the country, with some of these being staff who had returned to practice to help. In addition, many staff have had to deal with the loss of colleagues and residents, who were, for all intents and purposes their care home family.
In this week of compassionate communities think about how people respond to crisis, how we need to support people to continue and most importantly how we never go back to not recognising what our nurses and carers give every day.
We can’t go back, we must continue to progress and keep and build on the relationships that have been formed over this short period when the world has achieved phenomenal feats.
If we can build temporary hospital in a few days surely we can build a sustainable workforce, value the contribution and sacrifices our staff make daily and make nursing a career to strive for, after all its what we do that matters ……
According to Louis L’armour ‘there will come a time you will believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning’.
We look forward to a ‘new normal’ that means there is no shortage of nurses and everyone can access care provided by the right person, at the right place, at the right time.
Transforming Workforce Lead for Nursing