Health and care services reaching tipping point, RCN warns

Nurses take their concerns over the NHS staffing crisis to parliament

Nurses take their concerns over the NHS staffing crisis to parliament

RCN members go to parliament to discuss safe staffing issues with MPs. Photo: Steve Baker

The government must stop ‘starving’ health and care services of staff, the RCN said as nurses took their concerns over the NHS staffing crisis to parliament.

Nurses and nursing students met with MPs and peers on Tuesday to demand that the secretary of state for health and social care be held legally accountable for staffing levels in England.

Under ‘impossible strain’

RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said the current staffing situation puts nurses under ‘impossible strain’ and patients at risk.  

RCN director Patricia Marquis:
‘Services are reaching a tipping point’

‘Health and care services are reaching a tipping point, with nurses routinely working many hours of unpaid overtime to deliver the care people need,’ she said.

Ms Marquis said the law must be changed so those with the power to improve staffing levels are held to account.

‘Our members have a clear message for the government – change the law so that health and care services can’t be starved of much-needed staff.’

Action on vacancies

One nurse who took her concerns to politicians today was senior sister Sarah Everett from Essex, who said poor staffing affected nurses’ well-being. 

She added the current problems meant people were being discouraged from considering a nursing career.

‘How we feel about our jobs is our biggest advert for others to join the profession,' she said.

The RCN estimates there are currently 40,000 nursing vacancies in England.

Speaking to nurses at the event, Labour MP and shadow minister for public health, Sharon Hodgson reaffirmed her party's commitment to to restore the student nurse bursary in England and 'make sure nurses are paid properly', if elected.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock took a different stance on nurse education funding, calling for nurses’ student loans to be forgiven after they have worked in the profession for three years.

A spokesperson for Department of Health and Social Care downplayed the RCN's concerns, stating regulations already ensured the NHS was adequately staffed.

'It is already a requirement for hospitals to have the right staff, in the right place, at the right time and our Long Term Plan sets out how we will ensure the NHS stays the safest healthcare system in the world,' the spokesperson said.

'If care falls below the required standard, the chief inspector of hospitals can impose conditions to support trusts to achieve safe levels of staffing.'

Safe staffing laws across the UK

  • Wales’ nurse staffing law, which applies to adult acute medical and surgical inpatient wards, was implemented in April 2018
  • In May this year, Scotland’s safe staffing law was passed. It covers all clinical groups in health and social care services
  • Like England, Northern Ireland does not have a safe staffing law.


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