THE LATEST EDITION

November 2018
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Agency nurses – whats the problem?

Many agency nurses, who are an essential function of the NHS, are often treated as -second class citizens- something that needs to change to ensure maximum standards of care. That’s the message from the nurses we’ve surveyed at Arrows Group.

One agency nurse, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that there is a lot of hostility towards temporary nursing staff, that they’re given the most difficult patient and offered no support. She says, -We’re not treated like nurses- I’ve often been referred to as ‘agency nurse’ rather than by my name. Some hospitals don’t allow us to administer drugs, which I can often understand, but when that’s the case they should offer us the training to do so. We’re always willing to pay, but many won’t even offer us the option.

-There’s hostility because NHS nurses know we get paid more than them says another. -And if there are tasks we’re not permitted to do, that can mean more work for them. But that’s not our fault, and if they would work with us as a team then there wouldn’t be a problem. Permanent nurses always ask me what I’m earning, and if there’s a piece of equipment I’m not familiar with, I’ve been told ‘you’re paid a lot of money, you should know how to use it’. One nurse refused to show me how to use a new piece of machinery which everyone had been trained on whilst I was on holiday. This meant I couldn’t change a patient’s IV – I had to spend half an hour finding another nurse and take her away from her work so she could show me. Obviously not all wards in all hospitals are like this but it just shows that this treatment has a direct and negative impact on patient care.

The truth is that the NHS couldn’t function without the input of these specialist nurses. These people are highly qualified and deserve to be treated like any other nurse – and common courtesy is something that every employee is entitled to. The focus of healthcare staff should always be on patient care but it seems this is suffering due to these hostile attitudes.
Then there’s the issue of introducing new rules that state NHS nurses must have degrees, which could cause even more staffing problems for the health service. With specialist nurses already in critically short supply, narrowing the criteria for those wishing to enter the profession will lead to a drop in the number of people becoming nurses, making this problem even more acute.

This is a commendable move – the Government says that these new rules aim to improve the standard of patient care, which of course is of utmost importance. But it runs contra to the most pressing issue, which is nursing skills shortages across the NHS. By introducing these stricter requirements, the NHS may in fact find itself with lower standards of patient care, because it will struggle to find the talent it needs.

An increasingly high percentage of nurses working in the NHS are foreign nationals and raising the bar at entry point would have to be communicated clearly and rolled out internationally as the NHS is staffed by an international resource pool. There are critical staffing shortages across the NHS and the most pressing issue is looking at options that solve this rather than complicating it.
James Parsons, Managing Director of healthcare recruiter Arrows Group, which supplies temporary nurses to trusts across the country.

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