Accident and emergency nursing is in a “sorry state”, the Royal College of Nursing has warned, with better workforce planning and education a necessity.
Inadequate staffing in emergency departments across the UK risks undermining the quality of care received by patients, according to the college.
Today at its annual congress in Liverpool, the RCN released figures revealing up to 18% of full-time registered nursing posts in emergency departments in England are not being permanently filled.
The college noted that around half of those vacancies were being filled by temporary staff, but said that still left a gap of 8.5% between the number of funded nurse posts and the actual number of nurses in place.
The RCN’s highlighting of the issue coincides with end of the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence’s consultation on A&E safe staffing guidance.
“Too many A&Es are hampered by under-staffing and the wrong skill mix”
The college called on A&E departments to use evidence-based workforce planning tools to ensure safe staffing levels.
It also highlighted that nurses were worried by the impact that lack of staff with specialist post-graduate emergency nursing qualifications had on patient care.
Over the past year, emergency care summits organised by the RCN across the UK found frontline A&E nurses’ most frequent concerns were around staffing levels and poor access to specialist training.
In January this year a “major incident” was declared at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital due to a backlog of A&E patients and additional nursing staff had to be called in.
Linsey Sheerin, emergency nurse and lead for the RCN Northern Ireland Emergency Care Network, said: “The incident at Belfast was a very serious example of the current problems in emergency care, where departments are constantly firefighting.”
She added: “Too many A&Es are hampered by under-staffing and the wrong skill mix. They are struggling to release staff for professional development and training courses, which means they end up with too few nurses with the skills needed.”
Sara Morgan is a matron in the A&E department at St George’s Hospital in London, one of the busiest in the country.
She said: “Emergency nursing is a tough and fast-paced job, but we are all committed to delivering the best possible care for our patients.
“When there are enough staff in place, nurses can undoubtedly deliver higher quality care,” she said. “We have more time to talk to patients about the medicines they’ll need to take after leaving A&E and to give them advice on how they can best manage their health conditions.”