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Concerns continue to abound about the mounting potential for medical negligence in some of our most fundamentally important services, as the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has recorded a fall in the number of nurses and midwives in the NHS for the first time in 9 years.
Figures assembled by the NMC indicate that the total number of these workers registered in the UK fell by 1,783 to 690,773 during the year culminating in March 2017. The period spanning April-May 2017 also saw some 3,264 people leaving the profession, leaving vital care services dramatically understaffed nationwide.
The increasing volume of people leaving the profession has been shown to coincide with a slowdown in the number of people joining it, a matter not helped by the government’s decision to withdraw funding for the NHS bursaries system from 1st August 2017. The move means prospective nurses and midwives will be required to repay the costs of their training after taking a student loan – the first time those pursuing a career in the professions have been forced to do so – and undoubtedly a deterrent for some potential candidates.
Based on conclusions drawn from an NMC survey of more than 4,500 leavers, the struggle to retain nurses and midwives is thought to be down to adverse working conditions; specifically relating to staffing levels and workloads, as well as personal circumstances and disillusionment with the level of care provided to patients. This is particularly concerning for medical negligence solicitors who deal regularly with those who have suffered substandard care, which can amount midwife negligence or more generally medical negligence in some cases. With midwives and nurses themselves concerned about the level of care they can afford to provide to patients, medical negligence solicitors and prospective patients alike are understandably worried about the care we might expect to receive at the hands of overworked NHS care workers.
Director of Policy and Strategy at NHS Providers Saffron Cordery issued the following statement in relation to the figures:
“The reduction in numbers is most pronounced among UK registrants. And it is particularly disappointing to see so many of our younger nurses and midwives choosing to leave……until we address the underlying issues driving retention problems, including the pay cap and the unsustainable workplace pressures, these approaches will only have a limited impact.”
Director for Policy, Employment Relations and Communications at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Jon Skewes also issued the following statement:
“These are worrying figures for maternity services and for a profession that is already 3500 midwives short of the numbers needed in England, and with retirement bulges threatening future shortages in other UK countries…”
Royal College of Nurses (RCN) Chief Executive Janet Davies has also drawn attention to the practice of “bringing people in from overseas” as a “quick fix” means of filling the increasing gap left by British nurses. The spectre of looming Brexit now threatens to undermine even this measure, with the potential for many foreign nurses to be put off coming to our shores, or difficulty in doing so even if they try.
Understaffing in the midwife and nursing professions may force patients to pursue birth injury claims, hospital negligence claims, and medical negligence claims when their care needs simply cannot be met by an inadequately staffed workforce. What’s more; understaffing in key medical facilities can lead to temporary or even permanent closure of key departments, leaving patients with reduced medical access and at greater risk of substandard care and suffering unnecessarily as a result.