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Safe staffing levels have not improved, say nurses

Safe staffing levels have not improved on hospital wards in the last 12 months, despite government claims of increased nursing numbers, a survey of more than 5,000 nursing staff has revealed. 

The annual Unison survey, carried out on 10 February 2015, revealed that 45% of respondents felt there were not adequate staff numbers to deliver safe and dignified care. 

On top of this, nearly two-thirds reported that patients missed out on care due to understaffing, while around 50% reported not having enough time with each patient. 

Nearly half who responded also thought that staffing levels had got worse since May 2010. 

Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, said: “We have carried out this survey for the past four years and it is deeply worrying that little has changed. Staff are still not able to see all their patients – despite working through their breaks and doing lots of unpaid overtime.

“Demands on the NHS are at an all-time high, but despite the government’s promise, the NHS is operating in a financial straightjacket. With not enough money to fund adequate staffing levels, nurses and midwives are running themselves into the ground as they struggle to keep the health service going.” 

Earlier this week, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) published a report that revealed between 2010 and 2014, the total nursing, midwifery and health visiting workforce has increased. In fact, both the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) posts and headcount figures have increased by 6,434 and 2,938 respectively. 

However, when looking only at the total qualified nursing workforce (excluding midwives, health visitors and school nurses) the number of FTE posts has increased by 1,470, but the headcount number has fallen by 1,845. 

RCN added that most significantly, the headcount figure for nurses fell from 317,370 in May 2010 to 315,525 in December 2014. This is 1,845 fewer qualified nurses in the workforce, it claims. 

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “We warned that cutting the workforce numbers to fund the NHS reorganisation and to find the efficiency savings was the wrong course to take.  

“The cuts were so severe that we are only just catching up with where we were five years ago. Many areas, like district nursing and mental health, are even worse off.” 

Bryn Sage, CEO of Inhealthcare, added that the fact that the amount of nurses in the NHS has actually decreased in the last five years is certainly concerning. 

“Whichever government comes into power this year, increasing the amount of nurses should be a top priority,” he said. 

“As well as creating more nurses, I would like to see more investment in the infrastructure that supports how nurses work. As the report highlights, there needs to be a sustainable long-term plan put in place in order to keep up with the increasing demand and pressures on the NHS.” 

An NHS England spokeswoman stated that hospital nurse staffing levels have been rising dramatically and every trust in England is now required to publish staffing levels at ward level. 

“From the summer, patients and the public have access to more information on safe staffing as hospitals are expected to publish nursing staffing indicators and an overall rating on their safe staffing performance,” she said. 

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