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Nurses are ‘broken and distressed’ amid winter pressures, says RCN

Staff across the UK are reporting serious concerns about care quality during the worst conditions many have experienced
A&E trolley in corridor

The RCN says nurses from Scotland to London are reporting serious concerns about care quality during the worst conditions many have experienced.

Emergency departments are said to be at breaking point, as nurses shared stories of patients left on trolleys for up to 23 hours in overcrowded conditions.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies asked how long the government thought the NHS could survive on the dedication and good will of staff at breaking point.

Ms Davies said: We have heard from frontline nurses who want to give the best care they can for their patients but are being told to discharge them before they are fit, just to free up beds.

Its a vicious circle with community health and social care also struggling to cope

The RCN says nurses ‘from Scotland to London’ are reporting serious concerns about care quality during the worst conditions many have experienced.


Nurses say overcrowded wards are increasing the number
of patients left on trolleys in corridors.
Picture: Charles Milligan

Emergency departments are said to be at breaking point, as nurses shared stories of patients left on trolleys for up to 23 hours in overcrowded conditions.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies asked how long the government thought the NHS could survive on the dedication and good will of staff at ‘breaking point’.

Ms Davies said: ‘We have heard from frontline nurses who want to give the best care they can for their patients but are being told to discharge them before they are fit, just to free up beds.

‘It’s a vicious circle with community health and social care also struggling to cope with demand.

‘We do not say we need more staff, funding and resources as a matter of routine – we are saying the health and well-being of the nation needs an NHS that is fit for purpose.’

Emotional response

A sister in a large trauma centre told the RCN how she went home and cried because she had no bed for a 99-year-old patient on a trolley. She added that a treatment area meant for 20 patients had 56 patients crowded into corridors.

‘I ran our major treatment area, and patients were waiting more than 12 hours for beds,’ she said. ‘My staff were broken and distressed.

‘By the end of the day you could see their careworn, exhausted faces, feeling like they’d failed. But really it’s the government that has failed.’

Wave of warnings

The RCN statement follows a wave of warnings from healthcare leaders and experts issued this week about the state of the NHS amid severe winter pressures.

Jane Dacre, the head of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) warned it was ‘the worst ever’ winter crisis, while the chief executive of the British Red Cross Mike Adamson said the NHS was experiencing a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

In a letter to prime minister Theresa May, the RCP warned that lives are being put at risk by the crisis in the NHS and social care.

The letter, signed by Professor Dacre and 49 members of council, representing 33,000 doctors across 30 specialties, warned that hospitals were ‘over-full, with too few qualified staff’.

A separate letter to Ms May, signed by 75 leading health and care experts from organisations including the RCN, charity Independent Age, the Royal College of GPs and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, calls for fundamental action to address the problems.

Government response

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We know the NHS is facing increasing demand from an ageing population, but this makes building a safer healthcare system more urgent, not less.

‘Since just last year, we have 3,100 more nurses and 1,600 more doctors. We’re also joining up health and social care for the first time, as well as investing £10 billion to fund the NHS’s plan to transform services and relieve pressure on hospitals.’


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