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Nursing Counts

April 26, 2015 11:06 AM

Nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants do fantastic work on the Island. I am particularly aware of this because my mother worked for the NHS as a nurse for over 30 years. She was an Operating Theatre Sister at Frank James Hospital, East Cowes from 1970 until it closed and at St Marys until she retired. And through the care twin boys received following their birth at St Mary's.

Despite the increasing pressure the NHS is under, including coping with an ageing population and the growing number of people living with multiple, complex conditions, nurses continue to provide exceptionally high quality care.

I am pleased that there are 7,000 more NHS nurses than there were five years ago. However, I appreciate there is still much more to do, to reduce the pressures being felt by the workforce.

On the issue of staffing levels, you may be aware that, following the report of the Francis Inquiry and the Berwick Review into Patient Safety, the Government asked the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to produce guidelines on safe staffing in the health service.

I hope these guidelines will clarify appropriate staffing levels as well as increasing understanding of the pressures on nurses. I am optimistic that these guidelines will deliver change in wards across the country much more quickly than new legislation would be able to. Passing laws in Parliament can often be a very long and complex process.

Allowing local health services to retain some flexibility in their decision making will also have benefits - individual wards and hospital trusts have a much better idea of the number of staff they need than a bureaucrat in Whitehall.

The leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams, has introduced a Bill on safe staffing levels in the Welsh NHS. This is in response to the particularly critical situation in Wales, where the staff to nurse ratio is higher than in any other country in the UK.

I absolutely agree that nurses should be paid a fair wage. As you may be aware, following discussions in January, NHS workers and the Department of Health agreed a series of pay increases. I understand the terms included a 1% rise for staff up to pay point 42 from April, an increase in the bottom level of pay to £15,100 a year - a 5.6% rise for the lowest paid staff - and a further consolidated pay rise of £200 for staff on pay points 3-8 (a total increase of more than 2 per cent).

I can assure you the Liberal Democrats have no plans to cut nursing numbers in the next Parliament. In fact, we are the only party to set out plans to safeguard NHS services by increasing funding by £8bn by 2020, in line with the recommendations made by the NHS Chief Executive last year. This is essential if we are to continue to invest in the NHS workforce at the level needed.

We also need to look more fundamentally at how we provide care, in order to respond to the growing demands on the health service. We want to take steps to improve the integration of health and social care, to ensure care is better structured around the needs of patients and alleviate the pressure on staff. We also want to support local areas to pool their health and care budgets to deliver more joined-up services, and deliver a package of reforms and support for carers.

I hope this answers your question.