• Workforce plan must increase supply of undergraduate nurses
  • CPD tops pay as reason for leaving the NHS
  • No trusts have “too many nurses”
  • NHS long-term plan’s success “predicated on nursing and midwifery contribution”

The workforce implementation plan must lead to an increase in the undergraduate supply of nurses while retaining current NHS staff, England’s chief nursing officer has said.

In an interview with HSJ, Ruth May also said NHS Improvement’s retention work had revealed the lack of continuing professional development training was “the biggest area [nurses] tell us is the reason for leaving, over pay”.

The budget which Health Education England has to spend on CPD has been cut steadily since 2012 and, in 2017, it fell from £190m to £84m.

Officials, including Ms May, who is leading a workstream on nurse staffing, are currently working on a workforce implementation plan, which will identify “further opportunities” for easing the NHS’ 100,000 workforce shortage.

Proposals will be published at the beginning of April and a full plan will be published within two months of the government’s comprehensive spending review.

Ms May said she was “hoping we land some stuff in this one”, adding: ”My message to Dido [Harding] and my message to Julian Hartley [who was recently appointed to lead the development of the new workforce implementation plan for the NHS] has been, ‘we absolutely need to do what we need to do to retain our current staff and take action to increase the undergraduate supply of nurses, that is really important’.

“My recommendations to Dido and Julian are about how we close the gap on supply and demand.”

Asked about the suggestion that some areas may have sufficient nursing staff, she said: “I would love to be in a position where we have too many nurses across England. I don’t know a trust that has too many nurses.”

However, she stressed the regulator was starting to see “some major results” in its retention programme, which launched to 35 providers in 2017 and has since been rolled out to all trusts.

“We’ve seen in cohort one [of the retention programme] people are making some real big changes by focussing on the areas they need to take action on,” Ms May said. “Flexibility of working, rostering, retire and return.” She also said the retention of staff was a priority for ministers.

Ms May stressed the long-term plan for the NHS must maximise the contribution of nurses. She added its success would rely on nurses, and particularly specialist nurses working in the community, prisons, mental health and on specialist pathways like cancer.

Chief nurse’s four main priorities

  • Pride and celebration of the profession – “Not just talking about nurses being the most trusted profession, and yes we are, but how nurses celebrate nursing and how collectively we have pride in the profession.”
  • Workforce – “We have to deliver a workforce that is fit for the future and that starts operating consistently at the top of its licence. I want to make sure we look at retention and how we support our current workforce in ensuring they have access to appropriate training.”
  • The long-term plan - “The success of the LTP is predicated on the nursing and midwifery contribution as much as it is about any other professional.”
  • TeamCNO campaign - “Coming together collectively whether that is at arm’s-length body level or whether that is on the frontline, so that we are seen to speak with one voice, with one vision.”


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