A symbol of the European project's success? Photo: Getty
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Take me to your MEP: Rosetta shows Britain at its best working with the EU

The European Space Agency shows what Britain, France,  Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and 10 other European countries can achieve working together.

Last week I was transfixed, as I watched the genius of human intelligence at its exploring best. Images sent directly from the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko are astonishing proof of what the European Space Agency (ESA) has achieved. Many of you may have mourned like I did, as ESA announced via social media that Philae's batteries had finally given out, but don't let that dim the light of the incredible achievement of landing a manmade craft on a small comet 500m miles from Earth and getting information back. Philae's 60-hour primary mission was completed, with data safely returned to Mission Control in Darmstadt. And as ESA have assured us, it's not over yet.

I say what the ESA has achieved, but once again this a meaningless acronym. What I really mean is what Britain has achieved, together with France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and 10 other European countries. Because eight different British firms took the lead in the build and operation of the Rosetta satellite and her landing craft Philae. The entire project, from mission control systems, to those crucial batteries that kept Philae alive as the hours ticked down and the engineers raced to conduct all the experiments for which they had originally launched Rosetta into the heavens.

They did it, and I couldn't help but enjoy a small whoop of joy, both for the astonishing achievement of the ESA's mission, and for British engineering. The money invested in this project has provided Britain with high quality jobs, high quality scientific research, and high quality engineering. The UK is now looked to as a centre of excellence in space and aerospace engineering with the sector employing more than 28,000 people in businesses which combined generate an annual turnover of £9bn. What's more, the sector is growing at an average rate of seven per cent per year.  

World class space technologies and world firsts in space missions are no longer the preserve of the US and Russia, as even NASA had to admit to its followers online last week that this was a European project, not theirs as many assumed.

And all this came for a cool 15 pence per person per year. In fact, this 19 year project to build a satellite and get it to fly for a decade across the solar system in pursuit of a comet 500 million miles away from planet Earth, and to get it to land successfully for the first time in human history, has cost each European citizen just £2.78. In total over all those years.

All this in exchange for a world leading industry in space technologies, and a chance to glimpse upon something never before seen by human eyes. Not a bad deal really, is it?

Whatever happens to Rosetta, it is already an heroic achievement. And I have faith, grounded in the best scientific predictions, that this is not the last we will hear from the little lander.

This is something great that we have done together, proving what is possible for Britain, and for Europe. Let's take a moment to reflect on just what an achievement this is and be inspired.

Clare Moody MEP, member of the European Parliament industry, research and energy committee and the Galileo Interinstitutional Panel

Photo: Getty
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The NHS's sustainability is under threat if more isn't done to look after its staff

More work is needed to develop the health service's most precious resource.

As the NHS nears its 70th anniversary, the time is ripe for a workforce rescue plan. Staffing worries, even more than funding pressures, are the biggest cause of concern for NHS trust leaders. There are not enough trained health workers in the UK to meet today’s needs, let alone those of the future.

Demands on hospitals, mental health and community trusts, and ambulance services are growing. More patients need treatment. Increasingly, they require complex care, with specialist expertise. This is not just about numbers. We need a clinical workforce that is skilled and equipped to work in new ways to deal with the changing needs of the population it serves. 

That means improving the supply of people coming to work for the NHS, and doing more to develop and motivate them so they want to stay. These problems are not new but the scale of the challenge has reached a tipping point which threatens the future sustainability of the NHS.

Ministers rightly point out that the NHS in England has more clinical staff than ever before, but numbers have not kept pace with rising demand. The official "shortfall rate" for nurses and midwives across England is close to 10 per cent, and in some places significantly higher. Part of this is down to the recognition, after the events at troubled health trust Mid Staffordshire, of the importance of safe staffing levels. Yet for successive years during the coalition government, the number of nurse training recruits fell.

Far from being a problem just for hospitals, there are major nursing shortages in mental health and community trusts. Between 2009 and 2016 the number of district nurses employed by the NHS in England fell by more than 40 per cent. Just as the health service tries to accelerate plans for more treatment closer to home, in key parts of the workforce the necessary resources are shrinking.

There are also worrying gaps in the supply of doctors. Even as the NHS gears up for what may prove to be its toughest winter yet, we see worrying shortfalls in A&E consultants. The health service is rightly committed to putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health. But many trusts are struggling to fill psychiatry posts. And we do not have enough GPs.

A key part of the problem is retention. Since 2010/11 there has been a worrying rise in “leaver rates” among nurses, midwives, ambulance staff and scientific technical staff. Many blame the pressures of workload, low staffing levels and disillusionment with the quality of care. Seventy per cent of NHS staff stay on for extra hours. Well over a third say they have felt unwell in the past year because of work-related stress.

Add in cuts to real basic pay, year after year, and it is hardly surprising that some are looking to other opportunities and careers outside the public sector. We need a strategy to end pay restraint in the NHS.

There is also a worrying demographic challenge. Almost one in three qualified nurses, midwives and health visitors is aged 50 or older. One in five GPs is at least 55. We have to give them reasons to stay.

NHS trusts have made important strides in engaging with their workforce. Staff ratings on being able to report concerns, feeling trusted to do their jobs, and being able to suggest improvements are encouraging. But there are still cultural problems – for example around discrimination and bullying – which must be addressed locally and nationally.

The NHS can no longer be sure that overseas recruits will step in to fill workforce gaps. In the early 2000s many trusts looked beyond Europe to meet nursing shortages. More recently, as tougher immigration and language rules took hold, a growing proportion came from the EU – though not enough to plug the gap.

Now we have all the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. We need urgent clarity on the status of current EU nationals working in the health and care systems. And we must recognise that for the foreseeable future, NHS trusts will need support to recruit and retain staff from overseas. The government says it will improve the home-grown supply, but that will clearly take time.

These problems have developed in plain sight. But leadership on this has been muddled or trumped by worries over funding. Responsibility for NHS workforce strategy is disjointed. We need a co-ordinated, realistic, long-term strategy to ensure that frontline organisations have the right number of staff with the right skills in the right place to deliver high quality care.

We must act now. This year's long-delayed workforce plan – to be published soon by Health Education England – could be a good place to start. But what we need is a more fundamental approach – with a clear vision of how the NHS must develop its workforce to meet these challenges, and a commitment to make it happen. 

Saffron Cordery is the director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers