We can’t care for patients properly due to staff shortage, nurses say in survey

RCN survey of nurses on their final day of work reveals significant deterioration in staffing levels
Picture shows a nurse arriving at a hospital entrance

RCN survey of nurses on their last shift worked reveals significant deterioration in staffing levels

Picture shows a nurse arriving at a hospital entrance
Picture: Neil O’Connor

Eight out of every ten nurses who took part in a survey said there were not enough staff on their last shift to meet patients’ needs.

The RCN survey of nursing and midwifery staff across the UK, which obtained more than 20,000 responses, suggests there has been a significant deterioration in staffing levels since such a survey was last carried out in 2020.

Responses suggest only a quarter or 25% of shifts had the planned number of registered nurses on duty, a sharp fall from 42% in 2020.

Most respondents to the survey, conducted in March, said they were working with 50% to 74% of the planned number of nurses.

Findings published to coincide with the start of RCN Congress in Glasgow

A worrying 83% said the staffing levels on their last shift were not sufficient to meet the needs and dependency of patients safely – up from 73% in 2020.

‘Some shifts are relentless with no time for breaks,’ said one hospital nurse from England who took part in the survey. ‘We are not able to care for patients as we would like.’

A community staff nurse from Northern Ireland said: ‘I am becoming increasingly exhausted and do not think I can keep this up long term. I wonder on a daily basis why I ever came into nursing.’

The findings were published to coincide with the start of the RCN Congress in Glasgow.

RCN chief executive Pat Cullen said the report laid bare the extent of staffing shortages and the devastating impact on patients and nurses’ well-being and morale. In remarks prepared for Congress she said: ‘Don’t ever think that it is normal to not have enough staff to meet the needs of patients. It is not.’

The latest data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council shows that more than 25,000 nurses left the register last year, an increase of 13% from the previous year.

‘The pressure is too great and the reward too little,’ said Ms Cullen. ‘Nursing staff are being driven out by the current way of working – the shortage of staff and too often the poor culture.’

Accountability for nursing workforce planning and supply must be enshrined in law, RCN says

The RCN says it wants to see government accountability for nursing workforce planning and supply enshrined in law. It is also calling on the UK government and devolved administrations to publish realistic assessments of how many nurses are needed to meet the health and care needs of the population.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said the government was committed to supporting the NHS with the staff it needs. ‘We are over halfway towards meeting our commitment to recruiting 50,000 extra nurses by 2024,’ they said.

‘There are record numbers of doctors, nurses and healthcare staff working in the NHS, and we have commissioned NHS England to develop a long-term workforce strategy to provide certainty for the future.’

Other key findings from the survey

  • 62% reported patient care was compromised on their last shift – up from 57% in 2020
  • 59% of respondents said they felt upset or sad that they could not provide the level of care they wanted
  • 51% said they felt demoralised on their last shift – up from 43% in 2020
  • 61% said they were unable to take the breaks they were supposed to take
  • 63% said they worked additional hours that were mostly unpaid

Source: Nursing Under Unsustainable Pressures: Staffing for safe and effective care (RCN)

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