Patient safety

14.05.18

Nurses open up about ‘scandalous and cruel’ staff gaps pushing them into new careers

Staff shortages are affecting patient care and the mental and physical health of nurses themselves, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned.

A new report by the college, ‘Nursing on the brink’, analyses thousands of comments submitted by nurses and healthcare assistants as part of the RCN’s major staffing survey last year.

Six recurring themes were identified:

  • Lack of time for patient care
  • Lack of time to support patients and carers
  • Too much time spent on non-nursing duties
  • Inadequate skill mix of nursing staff
  • Concerns about mental and physical health of nursing staff
  • Concerns about staffing levels not being addressed

Over half of respondents reported a shortfall in planned staffing of one or more registered nurses on their last shift, with 44% claiming that no action was taken when they raised  concerns about staffing levels or compromised care.

Over half of respondents said that they felt sad that they could not provide the level of care that they wanted to and 53% reported that care had been compromised on their last shift.

One nurse said: “I am not sure if I want to stay in nursing. I feel the care I give is compromised by trying to complete specific tasks which are more concerned with audit and performance rather than care of the patient.

“The paperwork is onerous, repetitive and does not facilitate care planning.”

Another said that they have also considered leaving the profession: “I now find myself regularly feeling that I’ve not been able to provide safe - let alone quality - care to my patients. This is completely inappropriate and unacceptable, and to be put in a position where I feel as though I am harming patients due to a systemic lack of concern for safe staffing levels is pushing me towards seriously considering a new career.

“This must stop. This is scandalous, cruel to both patients and staff and quite frankly dangerous!”

These concerns are echoed by the public. A recent RCN poll revealed that three-quarters of people in the UK think that there are not enough nurses to safely care for patients in the NHS.

Furthermore, those surveyed in England thought that employing more nurse should be the government’s top priority for the NHS if extra funding for the service is found.

Speaking at RCN Congress yesterday, Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN, said: “The reason we have so many vacancies is because of short-sighted cost-cutting in past years and ineffective workforce planning based on affordability rather than the real needs of our population.”

She added: “We warned this would happen, but were called scaremongers.”

Davies attributed the staffing situation to a failure of politicians and policymakers, who she said have “an inability to recognise the value of nursing, an unwillingness to listen to those who are working in the service, and a lack of political will to address it”.

She said that staffing levels are the main reason for nurses leaving the profession, creating a “vicious circle”.

A Department for Health spokesperson acknowledged the hard work of nurses, saying that the NHS would “collapse” without them.

“The fact that the NHS is ranked as the safest healthcare system in the world is a testament to them,” they added. “From this year we will train 25% more nurses, are committed to helping them work more flexibly to improve their work-life balance, and have awarded a pay rise of between 6.5% and 29% in a deal backed by the Royal College of Nursing themselves.” 

 

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