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End of life care survey makes compelling case for staffing law

Nursing Standard-Marie Curie survey reveals impact of staff shortages on nurses and patients 

The nursing experiences recounted in our end of life care survey make for emotional reading, for many reasons.

They include tales of nurses desperate to provide the best possible care to patients in their final days, yet their wishes being hampered by the sheer level of demand and lack of staff.

There are stories of dying patients stuck in hospital awaiting discharge or transfer to spend their final days surrounded by their loved ones in their own home or chosen hospice.

Even sadder

It’s impossible not to be moved by the more than 5,000 individual accounts from nurses across the UK who took part in our annual survey with Marie Curie, the terminal illness charity.

Even sadder is that while this survey is about end of life care, it could equally be about mental health, community care or any emergency that falls short of being life-threatening.

The difficult situations and ethical dilemmas caused by woeful understaffing are not unique to end of life care or indeed palliative care – our survey covers those working in all settings and specialties.

However, the experiences that are recounted are particularly poignant because they are about the final days of someone’s life when those closest to them, and those caring for them, want things to go as well as they possibly can.

Against the odds

Nurses continue to do as good a job as possible, often at the expense of their own well-being – evident from those who report missing breaks to sit with patients near death and their families – but there are simply not enough of them.

We’re missing more than 40,000 nurses in England alone. This shortage and those elsewhere in the UK are not just numbers on an NHS Digital spreadsheet, but represent the real-life toll on those continuing to provide care against the odds.

The RCN says our survey results are yet more evidence in favour of safe staffing legislation being introduced across all UK nations.

It is sad that it requires a law to ensure there are enough nurses to have sufficient time to care for dying patients in their final hours of need. But if that’s what it takes then it’s high time ministers took the necessary action.