NHS in staff shortage 'crisis', campaigners claim
PUBLISHED: 14:16 17 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:09 17 September 2019
Nurses were out in Bury St Edmunds calling for action over staffing levels within the National Health Service.
Campaigners were in Cornhill asking the public to sign a petition as part of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) nationwide 'Safe Staffing' campaign.
The RCN is calling on the government to address 40,000 registered nursing vacancies across England, including thousands in the East of England by investing at least £1bn a year into nursing education and changing the law so there is clear accountability for safe staffing in England.
Natalie Brooks, a nurse at James Paget Hospital in Lowestoft and regional member lead for the campaign, said: "There's a 40,000 nurse shortage in England and it's coming to a point where we need to make people aware and that the government are held accountable for this crisis.
"The government needs to start funding more places for student nurses and look at how they are going to increase nurse numbers.
"We've had really positive public feedback so far, the public are really getting behind us."
Heather Riggs, a clinical nursing specialist in pain medicine at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury, has been a nurse since 1974.
She said: "Although we are training more nurses and we are looking at how we can continue to retain them, the age of nurses within the health service is growing as well, and there will be a lot of us retiring in the next five years.
"Retirement age is 66 for myself, but it's going to go up to 70. If you're only going to replace staff who are going over the next five to 10 years you're still not actually going to have additional members of staff, you're just going to maintain the current figures. And that's not enough."
Helen Maw, regional lead for the RCN on Safer Staffing, said East Anglia was around 5,000 nurses short and Brexit had made things worse: "It's already had an impact. We've got overseas nurses who are now not coming and some that have already gone back in anticipation of what the fallout might be from Brexit.
She said: "The other problem is growing our own nursing workforce. The government says there's 52,000 nurses in training but what that number does not take into account is the amount of nurses that leave before they finish their training.
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"There's quite a big drop-out rate, and also the number of nurses that are retiring early because they are exhausted.
"Somewhere in the middle we haven't got enough nurses being trained."
The nurses campaign was backed by people in Bury signing the petition.
Natasha Brooks, from Bristol but originally from Bury, said: "My mother and grandmother were both nurses so I have a lot of sympathy with the campaign.
"They are pushed to working a lot harder than is good for a person but every time I have had to use the NHS they have been brilliant."
Nathan Chadwick, from Barningham, a 19-year-old passenger assistant for special needs children, said: "They deserve to get paid a lot more. If I was working they kind of hours they have to I wouldn't want to be paid what they get."
Deividas Todorov, from Lithuania, who works as a home improvements salesman in Bury, said his homeland had nothing to compare to the NHS.
"I know how important it is to have something as part of the system as too many people can't afford private healthcare," he said.
"What you have here is a very good system but I fully support the nurses, their campaign is important."
An NHS spokesperson said: "The number of nurses, midwives and health visitors employed in the NHS in England continues to grow and this week the next phase of the 'We Are The NHS' recruitment campaign was launched which has so far seen a 4.5% increase in applications.
"The latest advert will be running on TV and streaming services for the next six weeks and we hope it will continue to inspire thousands of people to consider a rewarding career in nursing - a priority set out in the NHS Long Term Plan."
For more information about the safe staffing campaign, go to the RCN website.