RCN safe staffing report shows nurses at breaking point and patients in danger

Survey of 30,000 nurses underlines risks of staffing shortfall, as RCN calls for UK-wide legislation

Survey of 30,000 nurses underlines risks of staffing shortfall, as RCN calls for UK-wide legislation

  • RCN general secretary is expected to speak about safe staffing at congress
  • Wales already has safe staffing legislation and Scotland is expected to introduce it soon
  • RCN/YouGov poll reveals 30% believe promised extra NHS funding should prioritise nurse recruitment

The RCN is today demanding that safe staffing legislation be enacted across the UK as a report shows patients are in danger and nurses are at breaking point.

The college's Staffing for Safe and Effective Care: Nursing on the Brink report is based on a survey of 30,000 nursing staff and paints a grim picture of overworked, stressed and demoralised nurses struggling to deliver care to patients.

The report comes as a separate YouGov poll for the RCN reveals three in four people in the UK do not believe there are sufficient numbers of NHS nurses to deliver safe care.

Janet Davies
Janet Davies is expected to address the issue of safe staffing at RCN congress.
Picture John Houlihan

In a speech today to RCN congress in Belfast today, RCN general secretary Janet Davies is expected to say that safe staffing legislation – currently only introduced in Wales – would prevent staffing pressures forcing good nurses to do a bad job or leave the profession.

Ms Davies is expected to tell congress that the situation for the nursing profession is no accident but a direct consequence of cost-cutting by government.

'This is a failure of politicians and policymakers – with an inability to recognise the value of nursing, an unwillingness to listen to those of you who are working in the service, and a lack of political will to address it,' she plans to say.

Compromised care

Ms Davies is likely to speak about how care is compromised by short staffing and how mortality increases when the numbers of registered nurses declines.

The RCN is expected to call for safe staffing legislation, which would place a legal requirement on providers to employ sufficient nurses, to be implemented across the UK.

Wales introduced safe staffing legislation in 2016 and Scotland is expected to follow suit soon. However, no such legislation is planned for England and government in Northern Ireland is suspended.

YouGov poll

In the college’s separate YouGov poll, more than 1,500 (1,674) people living in England were asked how extra funding promised for the NHS should be spent. The highest proportion (30%) said the money should go on recruiting nurses.

The Nursing on the Brink survey

In total, 18,000 nurses filled in free text comments in the Nursing on the Brink survey. Here are some of the emerging themes, with a selection of those comments:

  • Patient care not carried out through lack of time: 'Basic personal care is the main thing – showering and shaving patients, which takes up time, is unable to be completed due to time management'
  • Not enough time to support families and carers: 'A lot of our time is spent with palliative patients in their own home. It is very frustrating for staff and very upsetting for relatives when we have to rush these visits due to workload'
  • Too much time spent on non-nursing duties: 'I feel the care I give is compromised by trying to complete specific tasks which are more concerned with audit and performance rather than care of the patient'
  • Skill mix of nursing staff: 'We are significantly bottom-heavy in terms of skill mix, which means these junior colleagues are getting pushed into progressing before they are ready, which is destroying them as people, leaving patients in unsafe settings because these nurses simply lack experience to be able to adequately perform the roles expected of them'
  • Mental and physical health of nursing staff: 'I missed breaks and I went home feeling hungry, tired and like a failure. I am looking for a new job outside nursing'
  • Staffing levels: 'I constantly raise concerns each morning about staffing levels and risks to the clients. It falls on deaf ears'


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    The RCN’s Nursing on the Brink report

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