Exclusive: Nurses feeling under pressure, understaffed and undervalued
Eight out of 10 nurses feel they are under more pressure at work than they were 12 months ago, with seven out of 10 suffering the side-effects of stress, a major survey by Nursing Times has found.
In addition, more than eight out of 10 nurses say their ward or team is short-staffed at least once a week, with half of these reporting that this is “always” the case, according to our survey of 2,200 readers.
The results of our 2013 annual survey reveal a stark picture of nursing staff attempting to care for their patients under increasingly difficult circumstances and, in some cases, putting their own health on the line to do so.
“I love my job but sometimes [I get] sick of being treated like this,” said one respondent, while another added: “I used to love being a nurse, now I feel over worked stressed [and] demoralised.”
The survey shines a light on the situation on the front line just six months after the Francis report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust highlighted the serious risks attached to staffing shortages.
The findings also come as two highly critical reports by the Care Quality Commission have uncovered severe staff shortages at United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust and Sherwood Forest Hospitals Foundation Trust.
When asked to rate staffing levels on their ward or team, 41% of respondents said they were “always” short-staffed, while 33% said they were short-staffed “more than once a week”. Less than 1% said they were “never” short-staffed.
More than half, 56%, said they felt they were under “significantly more” pressure at work than they were at the same point a year ago, and 30% thought they were under “a bit more” pressure. Only 3% reported being under less pressure.
The results suggest that nurses are being asked squeeze more tasks into their shifts, with breaks becoming a thing of the past. Respondents often described difficulties in keeping hydrated or being pressured to delay lunch breaks till the end of shifts.
Only 18% of respondents said they “usually” or “always” worked their allotted hours. Nearly 20% said they regularly worked between six and 10 extra hours a week. Nearly half, 46%, said they were working noticeably longer hours than this time this year.
One respondent said: “The NHS has always run on ‘good will’ for care to be carried out, only now they are ‘pushing it ’ too far – they expect it. No longer is this voluntary.”
Another said: “Employers want more and more from you, I am happy to give 101% but that is not often enough.”
The results also suggest the increasing pressure is taking its toll on nurses’ health. Nearly 73% of respondents said they had suffered the side-effects of work-related stress, such as physical or mental health problems, in the past year.
More than a third, 37%, thought they had taken more sick leave in the past 12 months than they normally would. Line managers suggested an even worse trend, with 60% saying they had noticed “slightly” or “significantly” more of their staff taking time off sick over the past 12 months.
Worryingly, only a quarter of respondents said shifts were covered “always” or “most of the time” when staff were off sick. One respondent said: “When we are fully staffed other wards take our staff, but when we are short, we do not appear to get any help.”
But of potentially even more concern, 74% said they had felt under pressure from their organisation to come to work when they were feeling ill this year and, of these, eight out of 10 thought the pressure to come in had increased since the year before.
Nearly two-thirds said they were not happy with their work-life balance and 73% thought their trust failed to attach a high enough priority to staff health and wellbeing.
Our results are reinforced by findings from a separate survey published on Monday by the Royal College of Nursing.
The RCN’s Beyond Breaking Point? survey of over 2,000 nursing staff found 55% had been made unwell by stress over the previous year and 82% had gone to work despite feeling too ill to do.
Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “Our whole care system is currently facing the huge challenge of delivering care at a time of increased demand and scant resource. This is the reality which nurses face in every working day.
“Individual nurses are clearly going the extra mile to make sure the job is done, however, the risk of burnout is very real, and very widespread,” he said.
What do you think?
We will be discussing the results of the survey on twitter at 1pm on Wednesday 2 October. Come and join the NT team and the nursing twitter community to discuss your views.
To join in search for #NTtwitchat and use this hashtag in your tweets so they appear in the feed.