Offering nurses a salary while they return to practice will help the shortage

Annabel Bennett wanted to return to nursing but couldn’t afford to work unpaid while she did so. She believes removing that barrier will solve a lot of issues

I qualified as an RGN with a BA (Hons) in nursing in 1986 from Sheffield Polytechnic and then worked for the NHS until 1997, when I moved to social services to inspect and register nursing homes. After my second daughter was born in 1998 I stopped work altogether and did not keep up my registration.

A year or so later I bumped into my previous manager who asked if I was interested in coming back to the inspection unit, which I was, but he wanted me to come back as a registered nurse, so I looked into a return to nursing course to reclaim my registration. At the time the expectation was that I would complete three months of ward-based shift work unpaid. With two small children and a husband working 12 hours a day as a GP, that was not financially or emotionally viable and I gave up the idea.

Once the girls were settled in school, I started to volunteer in school, then taught the trumpet occasionally and, after completing some athletics courses, was employed in a couple of schools to cover PPA (planning, preparation and assessment time) as an unqualified teacher for PE and music. After seven years I wanted a bigger challenge and decided to do my teacher training and worked in primary schools for about seven years.

I then decided I needed and wanted a better work life balance and after a few job applications found myself back in the NHS. I am now working as a generic worker on the district. Several people have asked if I intend to get my registration back and so once again, I looked into it, only to find that a gap of 20 years has made no progress in re-registering nurses. The expectations are the same: to work unpaid for three months doing shift work.

And yet there is a shortage of trained staff. Nursing in Practice recently published a feature that suggested increasing the number of males in nursing, but instead of focusing on men to solve shortages, they should look at the return to practice process. I do wonder exactly how many previously registered nurses would consider regaining their registration if it was made a viable option.

Very few people can afford to earn nothing. I have taken a considerable drop in salary, which I am lucky enough to be able to cope with, but in this day and age of technology and distance learning, surely registration could be made easier if there is such a lack of nurses. A modular eLearning course, tailored for the role that the individual will be undertaking, combined with supervised signing off of the clinical procedures required for the job, with the nurse earning perhaps a band 3 wage until they requalified a few months later, would possibly bring the NHS up to the present age and increase the numbers of qualified staff.

Annabel Bennett is a generic worker in the community at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, and a qualified nurse

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