The Royal College of Nursing has called on the government to do more to recruit and retain nurses, arguing that staffing shortages are one of the biggest current problems the NHS is facing.
Dame Donna Kinnair, the acting RCN chief executive, warned that the government needed to invest more in this area after listening to health secretary Matt Hancock's speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.
Mr Hancock spoke about the long-term plan for the NHS, with the government pledging a major increase in funding, but Dame Donna said there was not enough in the speech on the key issue of recruitment and retention.
She said: "If this speech was intended to show the government’s plan for the NHS, it has scarce little to say about the scores of unfilled jobs in every health care profession.
"After previously saying that the NHS workforce was his top priority, it was conspicuous by its absence from his speech today."
Dame Donna added that there are presently 40,000 nursing vacancies in England and unless these are filled, "so much of what was promised in the speech looks simply undeliverable".
She said the way forward is for Mr Hancock to draw up a "comprehensive workforce plan". This would focus on retention and recruitment and include a link between population needs and staffing numbers.
Furthermore, she suggested, this should be put in place through legislation placing a responsibility on decision makers for safe staffing levels.
Dame Donna concluded that nursing can offer "great career pathways", but said investment is required to make it more attractive.
Although Mr Hancock's speech may have contained less detail about staffing than desired, the promise of more funding for the NHS may provide a significant opportunity to take extra steps to boost staffing levels.
Last month, director of the RCN in England Tom Sandford called for a government investigation into the rising number of nursing vacancies in England.
This followed the publication of a report by NHS Improvement revealing a nine per cent year-on-year rise in vacancies.
Written by James Puckle
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