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Nursing staff shortages pose risk to patient care, warns RCN

The UK’s health service is facing a staffing crisis (Peter Byrne/PA)
The UK’s health service is facing a staffing crisis (Peter Byrne/PA)

Staff shortages in nursing are posing a risk to patient care, a nursing leader will warn following the release of a new report highlighting concerns across the UK.

The report, published on Monday by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), revealed that of 20,000 responses received, more than eight in 10 nurses (83%) reported staffing levels on their last shift having not been sufficient enough to meet the needs of patients.

It also found that only a quarter of shifts had the planned number of registered nurses – a fall from 42% in 2020 and 45% back in 2017.

The report comes as the RCN’s general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, is set to deliver a keynote address to more than 2,000 nurses at the college’s annual conference in Glasgow on Monday.

Hospital ward
Of 20,000 responses, eight in 10 nurses said staffing levels were not sufficient on their last shift (Peter Byrne/PA)

Ms Cullen is expected to call for action over the shortages, telling RCN members that it is not “normal to not have enough staff to meet the needs of patients”.

She will say: “Our new report lays bare the state of health and care services across the UK. It shows the shortages that force you to go even more than the extra mile and that, when the shortages are greatest, you are forced to leave patient care undone.

“Don’t ever think that it is normal to not have enough staff to meet the needs of patients. It is not. Today, members are letting the full truth be known – nursing is saying loud and clear that enough is enough.”

Ms Cullen will also acknowledge the fact that nursing staff are often being driven out of the profession due to the pressures resulting from staff shortages and “poor culture”.

She will add: “To those from Government listening to my words – we have had enough. The patients and those we care for have had enough.

“We are tired, fed up, demoralised, and some of us are leaving the profession because we have lost hope.

“Do something about it – we are not going away.”

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie suggested “neglect of our NHS” has been the root cause of a crisis in the health service.

Ms Baillie said: “Despite being in power for 15 years, this SNP Government has slashed bed numbers, failed to tackle delayed discharge and entirely failed our nursing profession.

“There are currently 6,600 nursing vacancies in our NHS – all while patients go without vital treatment.

“Our nursing staff work tirelessly on the frontline of our NHS but they have been failed by the SNP for 15 years. Staff are overworked, underpaid, and safe staffing legislation, passed unanimously by the parliament in 2019, has still not been implemented.

“If action is not taken now to support nursing staff and deliver safe staffing levels then further lives will be risked.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said staff and patients “are being taken for granted”, adding: “Staff are working around the clock because the Scottish Government’s botched workforce planning has left so many departments dreadfully short. The NHS is being overwhelmed.

“Everyone needs SNP/Green ministers to be focused on what really matters right now.

“Instead, they are devoting tens of millions of pounds to a referendum and putting top officials to work on independence.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Growing our workforce is crucial and that’s why we have steadily increased places on undergraduate nursing and midwifery courses over 10 consecutive years – doubling the number of new intake students in the last decade.

“We have recruited more than 1,000 additional healthcare support staff and almost 200 registered nurses from overseas to help address the unprecedented challenges facing the NHS.

“The Scottish Government remains committed to supporting NHS staff, and this year we have made £12 million available to support workforce wellbeing. We will continue to engage with our staff to ensure they get the necessary support they need.”

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