With Wendy on some well-deserved annual leave, it is my pleasure as Chief Nurse to guest author her message this week, in the run up to World Patient Safety Day.
Keeping patients, services users, communities and our NHS and social care safe is a global health priority. The term ‘First do no harm’, attributed to Hippocrates, has stood the test of time – and is just as relevant now as it was back then.
Since I began my nurse training in 1991, I have seen a fundamental shift in the focus of the NHS towards safety and effectiveness. It’s hard to read examples like Mid-Staffordshire, Winterbourne View and the recent Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR) and not be upset by their findings and outcomes for patients and service users. These examples further drive me to reach for better standards and ensure continuous improvement. In many cases, the system of care, including the processes in place and education and training, can actively contribute to error and harm, and this is precisely why organisations like ours are critical to improving safety and effectiveness across the NHS. Over the past decade, there has been a significant culture change in the system and a focus on putting patients first – but there is so much more to do and we must not become complacent in continually striving to improve the safety and quality of care.
When I was Chief Nurse in a Trust, whilst there were a great many positives, there was one thing that would inevitably keep me awake at night, and that was worrying about staffing in my hospital and across the NHS. Having the right staff, with the right skills and in the right place is absolutely crucial to ensuring the safety of patients and the public. Of course, part of this is about having the information and systems to understand any problems arising and how best to solve them. But even when all this is at our disposal, it ultimately comes down to having the right numbers of people on the day, who are able to do the job and work in a learning culture that prioritises safety.
There is a clear, well-evidenced link between having higher numbers of registered professional roles and improved patient outcomes. Much has been said about the challenges in the number of nurses in the NHS and social care. At HEE, we are focused on all professions, and work with partners to ensure that the NHS has high-quality education and training programs for a range of professions and support staff. As part of this, we are doing important work right now to expand the nursing workforce, in collaboration with our colleagues in NHS England and NHS Improvement. This includes recruiting more people into nursing degrees, ensuring nursing students have the best possible experience on their programmes, supporting registered nurses once they are in work, and encouraging those who have left the profession to return. We are also providing £15 million to expand the number of clinical placements for people studying nursing, midwifery and allied health professions (AHPs), which equates to an additional 7000 clinical placements for nursing and midwifery students and 3800 for AHPs. Through our Innovation team, we have also commissioned a new series of blended learning degrees which really advance digital developments and innovation in programs. This is truly ground-breaking work across HEE.
Already, there appear to be green shoots for the future of nursing as a profession. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a large increase in the number of people looking into a career in nursing, and in July, UCAS announced that applications for nursing degrees have risen by 15% over the last year. We have also seen a 22% increase in acceptances through UCAS this year – and notably, increases in mental health and learning disability nursing, areas where for years, we had only seen declines. The future is looking positive for nursing, and this can only be a good thing for both patients and health workers alike. Our work at HEE plays a key part in all of this.
At HEE we have a vital role to play in supporting the NHS to continue to deliver safe and high-quality care. Through our partnership work across many professions, role transformation and innovating new roles, we are building a safer and better-quality NHS.
If anybody would like to find out more about nursing and midwifery at HEE, please get in touch with us at email@example.com
Professor Mark Radford
Chief Nurse for Health Education England