Who is looking after the Nurses?

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.

13 responses to “Who is looking after the Nurses?”

  1. thanks for raising this profile – there have also been 4 who have died since April 2018 during their Fitness to Practice investigations and 15 who have died prior to closure of their cases since April 2015!!! Mental health impact of threatened referrals and actual refferals takes its toll too. http://www.nmcwatch.co.uk Twitter: @_nmcwatch


    1. I just need to point out that,within the NHS ALL nurses/Students in training are seen on commencment in post,by the on site NHS OH-occupational Health Team, who deal every day with Mental Health, support and can refer the person for appropriate/independent counselling, pertinent to their issues + advise on seeking Debt Counselling..No employee in NHS will go neglected,? .They can ask there manager or make a self referral into the department .


      1. Not sure where you work Valerie, but you seem to have far better access to OH that is equipped to deal with mental health than many trusts.


      2. Urges are educated not trained.


      3. OH in my trust has a massive back log need to wait 10weeks + for MH follow up


  2. Words Fail Me How can this Country Treat Our Wonderful NURSES Like This


  3. I’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune conditions and had to use 2.5 weeks worth of annual leave to attend appointments. My Maher also has a disabled son who has had 4 major ops and no special leave was granted. So sorry Valerie but I strongly disagree with your comment. Do you actually work as a nurse and if so please tell us where so we can apply for a post there? Sounds like the best health board In the UK!


  4. nurses are over worked under paid stressed out doing more paper work than nursing,when they are il they are dragged through back to work interviews which make them feel guilty for being off work , so they go to work ill stressed ,depressed ,and other ailments they have more pressure with targets and no support those with young children do noy get the family friendly support they were promised


  5. Toxic workplace culture is another big one, the figures don’t say how many of these nurses were bullied on the job. Nurses who bully are quick to cover themselves by casting doubt on a victims practice leading to doubts about their competency and meetings and hearings regarding this. Thus it is the victim who is made to look bad and put through the process of being judged and scrutinised! Then they don’t want to go to work because of it and end up ill with depression and anxiety. What a horrible circumstance to end up in. I’ve seen it happen to people and it affects them terribly. I’m not surprised there are suicides.


    1. I completely agree. I am a registered nurse and have been for 12 years. I was bullied so badly in my 1st job that I left. I have been in my current place for 8 years. I have stayed simply because ive had alot of operations and felt that I couldnt seek employment else where whilst I was sick. I have been bullied by a miltitude of people. Mainly the band above. So the managers. I have been told that im not aloud to learn any new skills because i was off sick having an operation. This happened many times. I have been screamed at in front of patients for simply asking a question. I have always been a good nurse and had praise from my patients. These people are the source of many leaving my workplace and yet no one does anything about them. The bullies stay bullies, and the bullied are expected to put up with it. Its disgusting, and something needs to change.


  6. How about bringing back the bursary for student nurses and cutting M.Ps salaries instead to make up the shortfall. The student nurses are far better value for money.


  7. I am a mental health nurse, currently off sick with anxiety and low mood due to work related stress, it has been a challenge getting psychological support, I did not meet the Trust independent counselling support (6 phone call service), I feel stuck.


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