The NHS in Scotland is struggling to recruit and retain enough nurses. It’s a UK wide problem and the causes are many. Certainly Holyrood has not shone in delivering the health service we all need. Poignantly in the SNP’s own White Paper on Independence just three years ago the issue wasn’t even acknowledged.
It is difficult to get the right skills mix on hospital wards. A mixture of appropriate and advanced trained nurses is needed. This has in recent years meant using unqualified staff called Health Care Assistants. It’s clear there is a large gap between HCAs and Registered Nurses and the UK government has piloted the idea of having Nurse Assistants to bridge this gap.
There is no standardised curriculum as yet, and there is no support from the nursing colleges and regulators. This isn’t necessary. I believe in the idea of bringing back Enrolled Nurses to the UK.
New Zealand is in ways more like Scotland than many European countries and the cultural links are strong. It is remote and so needs more than many countries to develop domestic capacity nursing. We could learn something from them about how post-Brexit Scotland will ensure we have enough nurses.
In recent years New Zealand's Conservative government has reintroduced Level 2 nursing otherwise known as enrolled nursing. A standardised 18-month curriculum can be completed for about £10,000. That means a nurse with much of the scope of current nurses in half the time and a third of the cost.
Given how much registered nurse time is devoted to issues such as hygiene, feeding, dressing changes and observations there is clearly a gap in the market to develop here.
It does not matter how often people dismiss the idea of enrolled nurses not being as broadly trained as current staff. The fact is we need numbers quickly with a standardised curriculum to deal with care of the elderly, mental health and acute care that consume so much of the health spend.
Scotland could roll out this programme by lifting that curriculum directly from New Zealand and work with the nursing college to have them on the register. Until then they would be confined to working within Scotland, which in the short term is no bad thing.
Enrolled nursing can recruit from many walks of life and the academic requirements are far less than for degree-level nurses. There would be nothing to stop enrolled nurses converting at a later date as has happened already in the UK some 15 to 20 years ago.
We need real proposals to solve problems. The ping pong of Holyrood over the indyref issue is becoming very tiresome. As conservatives we have to be radical in shaking up established practice and not simply playing to the crowd by increasing funding here and there and cutting taxes at the same time.
The SNP has failed as a government to ensure we have adequate nurse numbers, the Conservatives must rise above the policy doldrums and chart a new course for safely staffing the health service.