Inadequate nurse staffing continues to threaten patient care

The fourth year of Unison's survey of nurses to 'spot test' staffing levels on a single day shows no improvements despite huge recruitment drives across the UK

Nearly two thirds of nurses report that care is being ‘left undone’ because of poor staffing levels, a UK-wide survey by Unison has revealed.

The union polled more than 5,000 nurses on February 10 to ‘spot test’ staffing levels on a typical day in the NHS, with 65% saying that there was care left undone due to understaffing.

The survey, announced today at Unison’s health care national conference in Liverpool, revealed how 45% of nurses believe staff numbers are inadequate to deliver safe, dignified and compassionate care. Forty-nine per cent reported not having enough time with each patient.

Four in ten nurses were caring for eight or more patients during the day, with the figure rising to 55% of staff working night shifts. 

Two years on from the publication of the Francis report into care failings at Stafford Hospital, 31% of nurses said their organisations were at risk of a serious failing developing and 12% indicated that care failings similar to Mid Staffs were happening in isolated parts of or across their organisation.

This is the fourth year Unison has conducted the survey. The union’s report, Red Alert: Unsafe Staffing Levels Rising, says it expected this year’s results to be more positive in terms of showing improvements to staffing levels, particularly because of the government’s claims that it has increased nursing numbers. It also states that National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance for safe staffing levels in acute settings in England and recommendations from reports, including Francis and Keogh, have failed to improve nurse staffing.

Unison is calling for mandatory staffing levels – similar to ratios set in California – that are determined by the type of care setting, such as one nurse to four patients on medical and surgery wards.

Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said: ‘Our view is that there should be a legally enforced minimum below which standards should not fall. Any organisations that use agency or bank staff, have nurses working through their breaks or staying late should see these as red flag warning signs that staffing is insufficient and should be acted on. There is a huge lack of morale and motivation and that is reflected in the survey showing no improvements in staffing over the past few years.’

Read Unison's report: Red Alert: Unsafe Staffing Levels Rising

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