Government must act to ease nursing staff crisis

Colin Poolman 17 Sep 2021

Today is World Patient Safety Day. The last 18 months have shone a spotlight on the safety critical role of the nursing profession like never before. They have also added untold pressure to nursing staff as they do their upmost to keep patients and residents safe, providing the best care possible in challenging circumstances – often to the detriment of their own mental and physical wellbeing.

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Our members are exhausted, worn down by years of being undervalued and under-resourced and the additional pressures of the last 18 months. Vacancy rates in the NHS are at record levels and with similar workforce pressures in social care.

They are telling us that they have genuine concerns for patient safety and their own health. Many are going home after a shift concerned about not being able to provide the level of care their patients deserve and themselves not having had time to grab a drink or visit the toilet. This is the reality of working in our NHS and care homes.

We have been asking members to share their stories with us, these are powerful words, direct from nurses and health care support workers across Scotland:

“I know we are going to be short staffed, overworked and stressed to the max. And even when we are staffed somewhere else is short and you have to go to be in charge of a ward and specialty you don’t know.”

“Wards are every day working short … to soldier on is manageable but every shift is not sustainable and results in worsening the problem as more go off exhausted. For first time in my career I am pushed to tears, anxiety is high and I feel powerless to fix it for my teams.”

“I so love my job but it comes at a price and it’s impacting my mental health let alone the impact on my wife and family.”

“Very challenging. Only September and a massive increase in acuity of patients and massive amounts of staff off due to sickness/self-isolating. Concerned about burn out on the team.”

Implementation of the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act must be part of the solution. The Act places a duty on NHS and social care providers to make sure that, at all times, there are suitably qualified and competent staff working in the right numbers to ensure safe and effective care.

The Act also requires NHS boards to seek clinical advice when making staffing decisions and to establish a clear process for concerns about unsafe staffing levels to be reported and escalated.

We need to ensure nursing is seen as an attractive and rewarding career so that we can retain and recruit the nursing workforce Scotland needs. More must be done to encourage our experienced nursing staff to stay and to ensure there is a robust plan to increase the future workforce to a sustainable level. To address this challenge the Scottish Government must fund a fair pay rise for nursing staff and fully implement the Health and Care (Staffing) Act.

(As featured in The Herald)
Colin Poolman

Colin Poolman

RCN Scotland Interim Director

Page last updated - 17/09/2021