Over 300 nurses have died by suicide in the past seven years. This is an average of 43 nurses a year. The Mirror reported that this was 23 percent higher than the national average from 2011 to 2017.
Many of these nurses were young adults that had not even started their nursing career. Student nurses work some of the longest hours of any work placement program in the UK.
The mother of Lucy de Oliveira, A young student nurse who killed herself as she was struggling financially, – told the Mirror: “They’re working all hours God sends doing a really important job. Most of them would be better off working in McDonald’s. That can’t be right.”.
Until 2017, nurses were paid a bursary for the duration of the three-year training at University, which also includes 2 full time work-placements each year. This was cut by the Conservative government as part of their austerity drive. Since then nursing application numbers have fell.
The bursary, which in its last days was worth £560 per month, was vital for the student nurses. Their academic fees were also paid by the NHS. Since it was cut nurses have had to apply for student loans. Whilst this may seem fair, student nurses are expected to work night, late, early shifts and weekends. Often, this is full-time alongside studying at University.
They also work in places such as emergency departments or on psychiatric wards, depending upon their training. They are not compensated for working in these high-risk areas.
Training has changed
Until the early 90s’, nurses were employed by a hospital and trained there. They were paid a wage, and they were counted as part of the ward staff. Nowadays they are meant to be ‘supernumerary’, which means they are not counted in the staff numbers. However, if you go onto any ward, you will see that student nurses make up an integral part of the ward staff. They do everything a healthcare assistant does and they are often relied on to do nursing duties when there is a lack of staff. Wards are being pressured to keep agency staff costs down, student nurses help with this pressure. Student nurses work a full shift and they also get the same breaks as any paid member of staff. Just not the same pay.
People used to train to be nurses at all ages: whether it was a second career, after their children had grown up, or after they finished there A-levels. This door is now closed to many as they will not get subsidies for children which the bursaries gave or they may not manage to make ends meet. I know I couldn’t have survived without my nursing bursary.
Cutting the bursary is just another example of heartless austerity. It’s more likely to affect working-class females. Even in the 21st century women are expected, by much of society, to look after sick family members and bring up children. Most people training to be nurses are women and are from everyday backgrounds.
What is more, the bursaries have not been cut for medical and dentistry students.
Can you train 30,000 nurses?
The UK is in the midst of a nursing crisis. Currently we are 30,000 nurses short, and in 5 years’ time will be 70,000 nurses short. Three leading think tanks have predicted that the UK will not be able to train enough nurses, and that we will need to recruit from abroad.
Brexit and the decline in the U.K.’s attractiveness to work for nurses will also make this more difficult. In fact, more EU nurses are leaving since the EU referendum in 2016.
It is no longer incentivised to work as a nurse in the UK. There is no extra higher rate of pay for overtime, you have to pay for your own training and there has been a public sector pay freeze for many years. This has made some nurses quit the profession and work in Lidl. At a time when the UK has a nurse shortage, they should be encouraging nurses to stay in the profession, not scaring them off. Furthermore, nurses used to be able to get a decent pension, but this has changed so much than it is no longer attractive.
The Royal College of Nurses, the biggest union for nurses, is also in disarray. It has lost a lot of confidence from its members. This is due to voting for a bad pay deal with the government and appointing celebrities as spokeswoman, when they should have been improving nurses pay. Many nurses have moved over to Unite, GMB or Unison.
Getting in debt to pay for your own training, dealing with staff shortages and more work, alongside less pay and a reduced pension. Would you train to be a nurse?
How to change things
In the aforementioned Mirror article families of the victims and professionals were asking for mental health systems to be in place to support nurses. That along with stopping the toxic atmosphere in the profession. As well-intentioned as the suggestions are, I believe they are inadequate to solve the problem alone. We need to go further.
The real way to address people’s mental health issues is to address the problems that are causing them. These are systematic problems that cause poor mental health. It is the poor pay, badly funded training, increased workload and staff shortages. These are the things that make people desperate and leave the profession or worse.
The government needs to respect nurses. Cutting the training budget and freezing any pay rise is an insult to the profession that many in the country respect, and will need at some point in their life. If you really want to improve nurses’ mental health, to retain staff and train more nurses then start by reintroducing nursing bursaries and increasing pay that is fit for today.
Nurses care for us, now care for them.
Remember: If you or any colleagues having a hard time speak to someone.