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RCN Wales lays out demands for new first minister

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has urged the new leader of the Welsh Government to take “urgent” measures to fix nursing recruitment and retention, and protect the health service more broadly.

Vaughan Gething succeeded Mark Drakeford as first minister of Wales on 20 March, several months after Mr Drakeford announced he would be stepping down.

“He must make sure the Welsh Government keeps every promise it made to our members last year to end industrial action”

Helen Whyley

This week, RCN Wales told Mr Gething, who served as Welsh minister for health and social services during the outbreak of Covid-19 and later as minister for the economy, that he must take “immediate action” to protect the nursing profession.

Helen Whyley, RCN Wales director, made the demands of the new first minister in a letter sent today (26 March).

In the letter, Ms Whyley laid out “three urgent steps” to “rescue” the Welsh NHS.

The first demand was for Mr Gething to implement the promises included in the 2023-24 pay deal, which RCN Wales members narrowly voted to accept in September 2023.

As well as the pay increase itself, this offer included non-pay commitments to nurses and other healthcare staff such as a 36-hour working week, job description reviews, more flexible working, more advanced rostering and a reduction in corridor care.

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The RCN Wales director said: “What’s critical is that the first minister keeps nurses nursing in the NHS.

“That’s why he must make sure the Welsh Government keeps every promise it made to our members last year to end industrial action.

“Those important promises could make a real difference to nurses and to their patients. That’s why our members accepted them in good faith – but half a year later, they have yet to feel a difference.”

She called on the first minister to “refresh his public commitment to safe and effective care”, adding: “That would go a long way towards assuring nursing staff that his government will address the extreme pressures they are under.”

Secondly, Ms Whyley warned Mr Gething that he must only “responsibly” introduce registered nursing associates to Wales, an intention the Welsh Government made public in January.

And as the third demand, the new first minister was told to “strategically invest” in nursing education and continued professional development to “meet future health care demands”.

Ms Whyley said: “New nursing roles are fantastic, but patients need to understand what that means for them – and, crucially, they need to be funded properly.

“Any risk to patient safety from registered nurses being inappropriately replaced is completely unacceptable. And this can’t become a distraction from getting the basics right, either.

Helen Whyley

“A national strategy for commissioning nursing education, all the way from student to advanced and consultant level, would be a fitting ambition for a new first minister with a commitment to improving health.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson responded: “We remain committed to providing the NHS with the workforce it needs and the NHS workforce is at record levels. We are continuing to invest in the NHS Wales workforce and this year are investing £281m to increase the number of training places.

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“Retaining staff is equally as important as recruiting new staff. Our National Workforce Implementation Plan sets out actions to improve retention, including improving staff wellbeing, and continued investment in education and training.

“The Welsh Government has and will continue to invest in the workforce required to support our health system in Wales.

“We have continued to work in social partnership with all health trade unions and NHS Wales employers to deliver the non-pay elements as agreed as part of the 23-24 pay offer.”

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