A survey of more than 30,000 nursing staff across the UK - including 3,867 in the South East region - asked about staffing levels on their most recent shift and the quality of care provided.
57% of respondents in the South East region (Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Kent and the Channel Islands) reported that there was a shortfall of one or more registered nurses on their last shift.
And 41% of respondents in the region reported that there was a shortfall of one or more health care support workers on their last shift.
More than half of South East region respondents (52%) felt that patient care was compromised on their last shift. The most common reasons given for compromised care were not having enough nurses or health care support workers, as well as having an increased number of patients who required a greater intensity of nursing care.
Patricia Marquis, South East Regional Director said:
“These figures need to act as a stark warning to Ministers. They need to wake up and take action. Whatever the rhetoric about ‘more nurses in the system’ it is clear from this survey that there simply aren’t enough registered nurses in our hospitals.
“This is because year on year the investment hasn’t been there and there have been poor choices in long term planning. This won’t come as a shock to any nurse, they have been saying this for years, but enough is enough.
“We have heard from many members who are on their knees. They are tired, demoralised and angry. They are trying their hardest to give outstanding care but the nursing shortage is biting hard. It’s not fair on patients and it isn’t fair on staff. We urgently need real assurances from every health and care provider that services are safe for patients, and new laws on staffing should follow swiftly.”
The RCN is calling on the boards of health and social care providers across the UK to urgently review nurse staffing levels, give public assurances on patient safety and take action where standards are not met.
Nationally almost half of all respondents (44 per cent) said no action was taken when they raised concerns about staffing levels.
Nursing staff rated the quality of care more highly when there are fewer patients for every one registered nurse, which supports recent research by Dr Jane Ball. The work, released last month, found a link between the number of registered nurses, patient care duties left undone and mortality levels.
The report also states that short-sighted measures designed to cut costs led to unregistered nursing staff making up a greater proportion of the staff on duty. The proportion of registered nurses on adult general wards has fallen to 48 per cent this year, from 62 per cent in 2009.
The survey was carried out in May and suggests that pressures previously associated with the winter months have become common throughout the year.
The respondents also reported that:
- patients are no longer afforded enough dignity, even dying alone;
- colleagues have burned out and have become sick themselves, unable to come to work;
- staff leave work “sobbing” at the impact of shortages on patient care;
- many question their future in nursing and contemplate leaving the profession;
- they struggle to give their children and families enough support after shifts that can exceed 12 hours.
The findings come after the nursing regulator – the Nursing and Midwifery Council – warned nursing was shrinking as more people were leaving than joining the profession. It is expected that one in three nurses will retire in the next ten years.
The RCN is calling on providers of health and care services to urgently provide assurance to their boards that they are providing safe services. In addition, the Royal College of Nursing is calling for new legislation across the UK that guarantees safe and effective nurse staffing. It would give clear accountability and responsibility for workforce strategy, policy and planning and must lie at ministerial level.
The College repeated its call for increased funding for health and care services to meet the patient demand.