Only a quarter of nurses and midwives in Scotland believe there are enough staff in their department to be able to do their job properly, according to a national survey of NHS workers.
The NHS Scotland Staff Survey 2014 National Report found only one other professional group – ambulance workers – had a lower proportion of respondents (19%) reporting enough staff. Overall, a third (33%) of NHS Scotland staff said they had enough staff in their department.
The survey included responses from almost 56,000 NHS Scotland staff – representing around 35% of the total workforce.
“Nurses are the guardians of quality of care and must be supported to speak up when they or their colleagues are unable to deliver high quality care”
Just under 40% of nurses and midwives agreed they were able to meet all the conflicting demands on their time at work, while 45% of all NHS staff overall said they could.
The Royal College of Nursing said it was not possible to continue to ask nurses to juggle their workload, as patient numbers increased but staff levels failed to keep pace. Workforce figures released in August showed staff numbers had reached a record high.
“After years of cuts, the number of nurses and midwives working in our NHS is now going up, but so, too, is demand for services,” said RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe.
“We must look at how we can do things differently if patient care is not to suffer and staff get to breaking point from pressure of work,” she added.
However, the RCN highlighted progress made since last year’s survey, with 62% of nursing and midwifery staff believing patient care was their health board’s top priority, compared to 55% in 2013.
The ability to safely raise concerns had also improved among nurses and midwives, said the RCN, with 57% in 2014 stating this was possible – the same proportion across all staff groups within the health service.
“This is still an area which needs substantial improvement,” said Ms Fyffe, “but perhaps, like getting their priorities right, health boards are starting to realise that they must listen to their staff’s concerns and take action.
“Nurses are the guardians of quality of care and must be supported to speak up when they or their colleagues are unable to deliver high quality care, for whatever reason,” she added.
Despite this, the RCN warned of increasing financial difficulties within the health service, which it claimed could threaten the improved results in this year’s survey.
“We need a public debate about the sustainability of our NHS and how we can provide services, given our changing demographics and the inflationary pressures on NHS budgets as a result of new drugs and treatments and higher patient expectations,” said Ms Fyffe.