Three-quarters of nurses have no time to talk to patients, survey shows

Unison publishes annual safe staffing survey today

Almost three quarters of nurses say they do not have enough time to comfort or talk to patients, Unison’s annual safe staffing survey shows.

The union conducted a ‘spot test’ of nurse staffing levels by surveying 2,708 staff across the UK about their experiences on a given working day in February. 

It found nurses having to forgo basic care tasks because they are too busy, and caring for so many patients that those patients are at risk of harm.

Staffing levels survey infographic

There is insufficient time to spend with each patient, according to 69.7% of respondents, and because there wasn’t enough time, 74.6% of staff said they could not provide comfort or speak to their patients. This is despite three fifths (61%) being unable to take all or some of their breaks and two fifths (41%) working over their contracted hours.

In addition, 67% of respondents believed that staffing levels had got worse in the year since the 2015 Unison survey.

Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said: ‘Staffing levels mean nurses have to decide what care is left undone. That has an impact on morale and motivation and a huge impact on job satisfaction.' 

Respondents worked in a range of settings, including mental health trusts, surgeries and care homes. Just over half worked for acute hospitals.

Research shows patients are at risk of harm if nurses have to care for more than eight patients at a time. Yet more than half the respondents (56%) cared for eight or more patients, that figure increasing to 71% for staff working night shifts.

Unison is publishing the findings ahead of its health conference, which starts in Brighton today. The union is calling on the government to set national mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios.

NHS Improvement is due to publish safe staffing guidance this year, but is not expected to recommend minimum ratios. 

Safe Staffing Alliance chair Susan Osborne said: ‘More money must be invested to get the workforce up to safe staffing levels and we need more university places to train more nurses.’

The survey report is available on Unison's website.


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