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Pressure on ‘severely depleted’ nursing workforce cannot go on, report warns

RCN says patient and nurse safety is at risk and contributing to an unsustainable NHS  

RCN says patient and nurse safety is at risk and contributing to an unsustainable NHS

A ‘severely depleted’ nursing workforce is putting patient safety at risk and contributing to an unsustainable NHS, a new report has warned.

It revealed one in ten registered nurse posts have been vacant since 2017, taking the number of nursing vacancies in the NHS in England to 38,000.

Nurse vacancies a problem long before the COVID-19 pandemic

The

RCN says patient and nurse safety is at risk and contributing to an unsustainable NHS

There are 38,000 nurse vacancies in England, adding growing pressure to an already depleted workforce
There are 38,000 nurse vacancies in England, adding growing pressure on an already depleted workforce Picture: iStock

A ‘severely depleted’ nursing workforce is putting patient safety at risk and contributing to an unsustainable NHS, a new report has warned.

It revealed one in ten registered nurse posts have been vacant since 2017, taking the number of nursing vacancies in the NHS in England to 38,000.

Nurse vacancies a problem long before the COVID-19 pandemic

The RCN report, 10 Unsustainable Pressures on the Health and Care system in England, also found nurse sickness levels during the pandemic were contributing to enormous pressure in the health service. This pressure includes record emergency wait times, which the RCN said was ‘clearly a symptom of an unsustainable system’.

RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said high nurse vacancies was a problem ‘long before’ the pandemic and is a ‘direct consequence of a long-term failure to invest in the nursing workforce’.

‘Speak to any nurse and they will tell you just how concerned they are for their patients as well as their colleagues,’ she said.

‘They have known for a long time just how the pressures have been growing and they can see the risk to patient care every single day in every part of health and care.’

Patients waiting more than 12 hours for hospital admission

Ms Marquis added the government must ‘wake up to the reality’ and address pressures in the NHS, including a pay rise for nurses to help retain and recruit staff.

Other key indicators affecting patient safety revealed in the report are:

  • Nurse sickness levels, with 88,417 sick days taken in June 2021 compared with 72,295 in June 2019.
  • Patients waiting more than 12 hours for admission to a hospital
  • That acute care is safest when hospitals operate with a bed-occupancy rate below 85%. According to the RCN, 82 trusts exceeded this rate between April and June 2021.

Ballot on what form of industrial action to take over pay in England and Wales

The government has proposed a 3% pay rise for nurses, a long way off the 12.5% pay rise the RCN has been calling for.

The college has launched an indicative ballot of members in England and Wales for the 2021-22 pay award. It asks whether they are willing to take any form of industrial action, such as strike action or action short of a strike, or if they would support colleagues to take industrial action even if they chose not to themselves.

The ballot closes on 30 November, and a further ballot would have to be held before any action begins.

Last week, a clear majority of Scottish nurses in an RCN ballot said they are prepared to strike over their 4% pay rise.

The Department of Health and Social Care said that it is on track to deliver an extra 50,000 more nurses by the end of this parliament.

It added that £2 billion this year, plus £8 billion more over the next three years of investment will help to recover NHS services.


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