The union Unison is launching a new campaign to tackle unsafe staffing in NHS hospitals, which will see nurses taking action in their workplaces to track and expose staff shortages and their impacts.
The Only Enough is Enough campaign will launch this autumn across six pilot areas in the first instance – Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Cornwall, Liverpool and South Wales.
“If we’re going to see a meaningful solution to these problems, we have to work together to solve them”
Nurses, midwives and other NHS employees will be asked to complete a staffing survey after every shift over the course of a month to log any shortages and any problems they caused.
Union branches will then use the data to hold local hospitals to account and push for new measures to recruit and retain staff.
Nurse and secretary of the Royal Gwent Hospital Unison branch in Wales, Andrea Prince, is among those who will be delivering the campaign on the frontline during the pilot phase.
She said: “I have been a nurse for 36 years and in the last decade I have seen staffing levels really deteriorate.
“Agency staff are essential just to maintain the current poor staffing levels. If we don’t act together now, this issue is going to get worse.”
Ms Prince added: “Safe staffing levels are absolutely vital for the NHS.”
Speaking to Nursing Times, national nursing officer at Unison, Stuart Tuckwood, said it was hoped that by taking a more localised approach, it would lead to “meaningful change” on unsafe staffing.
He added: “We’ve been talking about safe staffing for such a long time, we’ve been talking about ratios of nurses to patients, we’ve talked about legislation, which we’ve made some progress on, we do have legislation in Wales and coming into force in Scotland.
“But the feedback from our reps, even in those contexts, has still been that that’s just words on paper a lot of the time, and without the tools and the power to hold the organisations to account, it’s not leading to meaningful change; we’re not seeing a real change in staff experience of working in these contexts.
“So, basically, this is good bread and butter union organising, which is that if we’re going to see a meaningful solution to these problems, we have to work together to solve them.”
He said, for him, the campaign was about “accountability” and making sure employers abided by their duties to deliver safe and effective care through adequate staffing, as well as giving staff a “voice” in their organisations.
Acknowledging that employers would not be able to wave a “magic wand” to solve their staffing problems, Mr Tuckwood said they should engage with staff and union reps and branch secretaries on the issue.
“They’re the ones who are sitting in branch offices listening to people tell them why it is they’re leaving, why they can’t stick out this job, why they’ve not been able to hire someone,” he noted.
“So actually, as a beginning, just getting NHS employers working in partnership with unions will hopefully yield some ideas and opportunities to fix these problems.
“But it’s also about creating a pressure on the employers.”
Following the pilot, Unison aims to expand the campaign to other areas across the UK from next year onwards, helping to build a national, detailed picture of the state of staffing in NHS hospitals.
Mr Tuckwood said the union was then planning to carry out “some innovative campaigning with the data” working with academics, patient groups and the public to lobby for safer staffing nationally.