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Thousands of nurses want to quit due to exhaustion: RCN survey

More than half of nurses and healthcare support workers who took part in the RCN’s 2021 employment survey say they are planning to leave, with many citing feeling undervalued and overworked
Picture shows a young woman medic with her eyes closed and looking tired

More than half of nurses and healthcare support workers who took part in the RCN’s 2021 employment survey say they are planning to leave, with many citing feeling undervalued and overworked

Thousands of nurses are actively planning to leave their jobs due to exhaustion and feeling undervalued, a survey suggests.

The RCN 2021 biennial employment survey also found that many nurses are routinely working unpaid overtime, delaying or not taking annual leave, and working when unwell.

Many say their pay band is inappropriate for the work they are doing

Of the 9,577 registered nurses, healthcare support workers and nursing associates who responded to the survey, 57%

More than half of nurses and healthcare support workers who took part in the RCN’s 2021 employment survey say they are planning to leave, with many citing feeling undervalued and overworked

Picture shows a young woman medic with her eyes closed and looking tired
Picture: iStock

Thousands of nurses are actively planning to leave their jobs due to exhaustion and feeling undervalued, a survey suggests.

The RCN 2021 biennial employment survey also found that many nurses are routinely working unpaid overtime, delaying or not taking annual leave, and working when unwell.

Many say their pay band is inappropriate for the work they are doing

Of the 9,577 registered nurses, healthcare support workers and nursing associates who responded to the survey, 57% said they were either thinking about leaving or actively planning to leave their job. Some 70% of those who said they were thinking of leaving cited feeling undervalued as the reason, while 60% said they feel exhausted and 47% said they are unable to give patients the level of care they would like to.

Around six in ten (63%) of all those who took part said their pay band or level is inappropriate for the work they are doing.

A clinical nurse specialist working in urgent care in Wales said they felt there was a constant threat of being redeployed to fill rota gaps. ‘Since COVID-19, patients and families are waiting so long to access care, so many distressed people, families are calling daily, the calls are heartbreaking. The aggression is increasing, and I am not sure how much more I can take,' they said.

The RCN said rising staff absences due to COVID-19 were adding to already unsustainable pressures in the NHS. Nearly 19,000 NHS staff were absent for reasons related to COVID-19 on 19 December, according to the latest figures from NHS England – up 54% on the previous week.

Contracted hours often exceeded and overtime unpaid

The survey, carried out before the Omicron variant emerged in the UK, also found around 77% of respondents had worked when unwell on at least one occasion over the previous 12 months.

Some 74% of respondents said they worked beyond their contracted hours at least once a week, with 53% of these saying the overtime is unpaid.

Overall, 18% said they had not asked to take their full annual leave entitlement this year, while 15% said they had been asked to delay taking holiday leave.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said years of understaffing coupled with another wave of COVID-19 was taking its toll on nurses’ well-being. ‘All nursing staff need funded and supported time out – not limited to annual leave – regardless of which setting they work in,’ she said.

‘Likewise, where staff have taken time off due to illness, rest and recuperation must be central to decision-making about their return to work. Proper mental and psychological support services need to be made available.’


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