Nursing and midwifery in the time of COVID-19

Nursing and midwifery in the time of COVID-19
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The UK’s Nursing and Midwifery Council speaks to HEQ about the pandemic and the future.

In 2020, the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, the role of nurses and midwives in the broader health and care landscape has been thrown into sharp relief by the onset of a global pandemic. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the professional regulator for nurses and midwives across the UK and nursing associates in England, speaks with HEQ about its vision for the future, employee wellbeing, and the challenges of nursing under the shadow of COVID-19.

Can you tell me a bit about the NMC Strategy 2020-2025? What are the goals and themes of the strategy?

Our new strategy for 2020-2025 following approval at our public Council meeting last month and after spending the past year working in co-production with nursing and midwifery professionals on our register, our key partners and the public on a bold new future plan for the NMC. Commenting on its development, our Chief Executive and Registrar, Andrea Sutcliffe CBE, said: “After all the hard work we’ve put in over the last year gathering people’s views to develop our future vision and ambition for change, in normal circumstances, making a fuss about our new strategy would have been at the top of our activities right now, but like many others in these challenging and unprecedented times – not least our incredible health and care professionals who are doing an incredible job delivering care and support in difficult circumstances – our key focus has been on responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

“While our plans to formally implement this new strategy are on hold until the time is right, I’m proud and grateful that its three core pillars that will guide us over the next five years – regulate, support and influence – have also underpinned our NMC response at this time of crisis by supporting nurses, midwives and nursing associates in all health and social care settings and helping to expand the workforce. I’m looking forward to marking our new strategy properly later in the year; and until then, thank you to everybody who has contributed to this importance piece of work.”

We co-produced our strategy with nursing and midwifery professionals, our partners, the public and our NMC colleagues. We heard thousands of views and five strategic themes emerged. These themes will guide how we plan our work, and our investment in people and resources between 2020 and 2025. They are:

  • Improvement and innovation;
  • Proactive support for our professions;
  • Becoming more visible and informed;
  • Engaging and empowering the public, professionals and partners; and
  • Insight and influence.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak impacted the workload of nurses and midwives in particular? What effect has this had on staff wellbeing?

Despite the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, NMC registered professionals have continued to deliver excellent nursing and midwifery care. But as we know from our own data, health and social care were already facing significant pressures in attracting and retaining the skilled professionals we need for the future. The impact of COVID-19 may exacerbate those pressures and has also exposed the unacceptable inequalities faced by professionals from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Focusing on how we can support and develop our nursing and midwifery professionals so they stay and enjoy long and exciting careers is now ever more important.

What challenges do nurses face in their work that the public may not be aware of?

At the forefront of the UK’s response to COVID-19 are nurses, midwives and nursing associates on both our permanent and temporary registers. It’s their selfless work, alongside their colleagues, that means many lives have been saved and millions of people across the country have and continue to receive the very best, safest care. But this pandemic is far from over. The threat of second a wave is a very real possibility and as more routine services resume, the pressure on services and our professionals will not ease – and it may well get worse. It’s vital that the mental and physical wellbeing of staff is prioritised in the weeks and months ahead.

The 2020 NMC Register showed the UK has its highest number of registered nursing and midwifery professionals to date – but do you anticipate potential future issues with recruitment and retention of nursing staff, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of freedom of movement for the UK?

Commenting on the NMC’s most recent data report, Andrea Sutcliffe said: “COVID-19 has meant the vital skills, specialism and resilience of our nursing and midwifery professionals have never been more publicly recognised and valued. It’s therefore great to celebrate record numbers of people on the NMC register. However, while the increased figures from within the UK and overseas are very welcome for everyone working in and using health and care services, there are potential stormy waters ahead.

“As a result of the pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, we may no longer be able to rely on the flow of professionals joining our register from overseas in the same way. Going forwards, the significant growth we’ve seen recently may not be sustained. Nor can we afford to ignore existing pressures, exposed and exacerbated by Covid-19, which may challenge employers’ ability to retain our essential nursing and midwifery professionals as health and care services seek to recover. We all need to use the insight our registration data reveals to focus on creating the right environment, conditions and incentives to support the sustainable recruitment and retention of nursing and midwifery staff now and for the future.”

Andrea Sutcliffe
Chief Executive and Registrar
Nursing and Midwifery Council

This article is from issue 14 of Health Europa. Click here to get your free subscription today.

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