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8 in 10 shifts unsafe: RCN survey reveals shocking extent of staffing crisis

6 Jun 2022

Governments must act urgently to protect patient care.

Last shift survey photo stunt

Today we reveal the full extent of the UK nursing workforce crisis in a new report based on what you told us about your last shift. 


Earlier this year, we asked about your experiences at work. We wanted to understand what staffing levels were like and what impact they had on patient care.

Tens of thousands of you responded. The results are shocking. 

Eight in 10 (83%) said there weren’t enough nursing staff to meet all patient needs safely and effectively on their last shift. 

Just a quarter (25%) of shifts had the planned number of registered nurses. 

Less than one in five (18%) said they had enough time to provide the level of care they’d like. 

RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “These results speak for themselves. The risk to patients, to services and to health and care staff is simply unacceptable. The complacency from governments across the UK is unacceptable.

“Our members are nursing under unsustainable pressure, and governments are risking lives by failing to take urgent action. Together, we’re determined to use our position as the leading voice of nursing to be the greatest champion of high-quality patient care.”

The RCN is calling on governments across the UK to take accountability for nursing workforce planning and supply in law, and immediately publish independently verifiable assessments of population health needs. These should directly inform what’s invested into the nursing workforce.

At RCN Congress in Glasgow, taking place this week (see above picture), Pat will issue a stark warning. “Nursing staff are being driven out by the current way of working - the shortage of staff and too often the poor culture," she'll say. “To those from government listening to my words - we've had enough. The patients and those we care for have had enough.

"We're tired, fed up, demoralised, and some of us are leaving the profession because we've lost hope. Do something about it - we're not going away.”

This is the third time we’ve conducted our “last shift survey”, with the results this year, compared to 2017 and 2020, revealing the impact of COVID-19 on the morale of nursing staff.

Nearly six in 10 (59%) said they felt upset or sad that they couldn’t provide the level of care they wanted, while over half (51%) said they felt demoralised on their last shift.

Worryingly, one in five (21%) said they felt unable to raise concerns. Our Nursing Workforce Standards say nursing staff should be encouraged to report incidents where safety is compromised, benefitting from a “psychologically safe” environment that enables learning rather than blame.

We’re clear that nursing staff must be supported to speak up and have produced a toolkit to help you decide if, when and how to report an incident or raise a concern. 


Page last updated - 06/11/2022