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Nurses warn of rationing patient care as ward staffing levels worsen

An annual nursing survey has found widespread discontent across the profession, with nurses warning they lack enough staff to deliver an adequate standard of care.

The survey, ‘Pushing the Call Button on Unsafe Staffing: Who Will Come to our Aid?’, conducted by trade union Unison, found that 63% of respondents felt there were inadequate numbers of staff on the wards to ensure safe, dignified and compassionate care, an increase from 45% in the previous year’s survey.

Many felt this led to too few nurses looking after too many patients, with 56% of staff reporting they had eight or more patients to look after, an increase from 42% in 2015. This number grew to 71% working evening shifts. They said this meant they couldn’t spend enough time on each patient (70%) or had no time to comfort or talk to patients (75%).

Christina McAnea, Unison’s head of health, said: “Nurses and midwives should not have to ration their time and make the difficult choice as to which patients receive care and which miss out. Even working through their breaks and staying late or coming in early isn’t enough. It’s unfair for staff to be in this position and it puts patients at risk.

“Increasing demands on the NHS show no sign of letting up, and despite all ministers’ talk of protecting the NHS, the desperate situation painted here by health professionals across the UK looks set to continue.”

There is a 9% vacancy rate for nurses, compared to 2.7% on average. The latest NHS staff survey found that almost half of respondents disagreed with the statement that there were enough staff at their place of work for them to do their job.

The staffing shortages had an impact on the wellbeing of nurses, with 61% saying they were unable to take some or all of their allowed breaks, and 41% working over their allotted hours, of whom 75% put in up to an hour of extra time but only 10% were paid to do so.

Overall, 68% of nurses reported they had considered leaving the NHS in the past year, 47% thought the organisation they worked for was at serious risk of a care failing developing, and 15% said that care failings were already happening.

Nurses also criticised the government cap on spending on agency staff, with 39% saying it had affected staffing levels.

McAnea also called for the government to introduce minimum nurse to patient ratios, similar to those recently introduced in Wales, which were supported by 89% of survey respondents.

Another Unison report, published last week, criticised NHS employers for relying on low-paid apprentices after finding that 63% of NHS employers are hiring apprentice healthcare assistants at an average wage of £3.93 every hour.

The Unison survey was based on a ‘spot test’ of 2,078 nurses across the country conducted on 9 February.


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