It’s an astonishing statistic when you do some of the arithmetic. For example, in the NHS - the largest employer of nursing and midwifery staff - the vacancy rate is at its highest since September 2007 (6.3%); that’s over 4,000 posts that have not been filled. Of those vacancies, more than 1,000 have been vacant for three months or more. In the independent sector, Scottish Care estimate that nearly a fifth of care home nurse posts for registered nurses are vacant, with nursing posts taking between six and eight months to fill but sometimes up to two years.
Wherever nursing staff are employed, working in such a depleted workforce is like having an arm and a leg tied behind your back.
In the same RCN survey, respondents said they were under too much pressure, too busy to provide the level of care they would like, and felt undervalued. All in all, it’s a bleak picture and it’s taking an increasingly heavy toll on the wellbeing of nursing staff as they do not have the time to look after themselves.
One respondent told us: “We maintain a high standard of care in the area where I work but only because staff are prepared to go the extra mile and work through lunch breaks or work late to ensure care is not compromised.”
Another said: “I was off with stress and was contacted every second day with a view to going back. I feel pressured and had to return before mentally ready. I feel physically stressed before during and after my shift and worry that things can be missed.”
Nursing staff know all too well about the impact of an unhealthy lifestyle. Day in, day out, they see what not eating or hydrating properly, drinking or smoking too much, or not getting enough exercise does to people. It is time to start helping nursing staff take better care of themselves. The RCN is taking a lead through campaigns and resources such as ‘Healthy Workplace’ and ‘Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel’, designed to help our members take control of their wellbeing.
But others need to follow our lead and the RCN is committed to working with employers to change the picture for our under-pressure nursing staff.
Theresa Fyffe, Director, RCN Scotland, is chairing the NHS Staff Wellbeing conference in Edinburgh on 19 November.
The report of the RCN Scotland Employment Survey will be published on 28 November.