Nursing staff stretched to breaking point over workloads

28 Nov 2019

RCN warns politicians must take action to end the nursing workforce crisis as survey shows vacancies are compromising care.

Nursing on the Shortage Occupation List

Findings from the RCN’s recent employment survey show that nursing staff across the UK are under such pressure that six out of 10 say they cannot provide the level of care they want to.

The annual survey, which was first carried out in 1986, also shows that barely a quarter of respondents think their pay is appropriate for the level of responsibility and stress they face at work. Three in 10 say they have suffered physical abuse from patients, or patients’ relatives, in the last 12 months. 

The survey also highlighted that health care assistants are increasingly being asked to take on the duties of registered nurses. 

With the general election only two weeks away, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said the survey should be “required reading for all politicians”.

Dame Donna said: “The findings lay bare the serious consequences for both patients and nurses of the huge number of vacant nursing posts across the UK, with 43,000 vacancies in the NHS in England alone.  

“Yet failure to increase nurse numbers isn’t inevitable, but a political choice. We need proper financial help for nursing students in every nation of the UK in order to ensure the supply of nurses in the future, and clear legal duties for governments and NHS leaders across the UK to ensure there are enough nurses to provide safe care to patients.

“Health and social care services can't hope to recruit and retain staff if they don’t focus on the employment experience of their staff, but our new survey findings show that for many nurses, the picture is poor.”

Dame Donna added: “Patients depend on nurses to keep them safe in hospitals, in care homes and in their own homes.  At its best, nursing gives people a sense of identity, pride, achievement and a huge sense of fulfilment.  But our findings show that the pressures on staff are becoming so overwhelming that we risk losing more nurses from the already depleted workforce.”

The RCN’s 2019 employment survey was completed by RCN members working in NHS hospitals, community nursing, care homes and GP practices across the UK.

One Band 5 staff nurse working in urgent and acute care said: “I struggle every day because I cannot give levels of care that I would like to give, so I work harder and harder and at the end of the day I feel exhausted.  

“We are expected to do so much training but I never get time to do it and I end up doing this in my spare time. I love being a nurse and [it] is all I want to do for the rest of my life, but I am looking at relocating to another country where I can have a better life work balance and where I can look forward to going to work.”

Page last updated - 17/05/2021