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Exclusive: official report shows nurse fears over future care

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The majority of nurses working across acute, community and primary care settings expect the quality of care given to patients by the NHS to get worse in the near future, according to research for the government.

The bleak assessment of how nurses are battling to cope with pressures to make savings and changes to services is revealed in a report commissioned by the Department of Health and obtained by Nursing Times.

The report, which is likely to be published later this month, includes results from a survey of 1,130 NHS staff carried out in winter 2011 by the research company GfK as part of a regular tracker of views on the health service and related policies.

It reveals that nursing staff working in the community, where a greater proportion of care is due to delivered in future, were the most concerned about falling quality of care.

Nearly two thirds, 62%, of the community workforce expect patient care to get worse “over next few years”, compared to 58% of practice nurses and 51% of hospital nurses.

Meanwhile, 58% of the community workforce already thought patient care had got worse over past 12 months, as did 38% of practice nurses and 22% of hospital nurses.

Across all NHS staff groups surveyed, 29% thought care has got worse over the last 12 months, 47% that it had remained the same and 23% that it had got better. GPs were most likely to think patient care had worsened.

Meanwhile 53% of NHS staff predicted care would get worse in the near future, compared to 34% in the same survey in summer 2009.

However, almost nine out of 10 NHS staff said they were proud to work in the NHS.

The report said the community workforce was among the staffing groups most likely to think the NHS was “under-resourced, and the least confident in the organisations ability to bridge the funding gap by efficiencies being reinvested in frontline services”.

However, secondary care nurses were the group most likely to think the NHS was under resourced, with 82% stating this was the case. On a more positive note, 77% felt empowered to take ideas to their managers.

Howard Catton, head of policy at the Royal College of Nursing, described the survey results as worrying and said they should not be dismissed.

“These are experiences borne out of a hard reality of the pressures that staff are under trying to deliver frontline care,” he said.

Sara Gorton, deputy head of health at Unison, said: “This survey mirrors many of our own fears about the direction the government is taking the NHS.

“It is not surprising this survey shows staff believe the NHS is under-resourced when the number of patients keeps going up at the same time as trusts are being forced to make £20bn in so called efficiency savings.

“The cuts and reforms are fuelling staff and patient fears over the future of the NHS,” she said.

The GfK report echoes concerns from the British Social Attitudes Survey published last week by the King’s Fund think tank. It revealed falling public satisfaction with the NHS.

The survey of around 1,000 people found satisfaction with the running of the NHS fell from 70% to 58% between 2010 and 2011. It is the largest drop since the survey began in 1983, and comes after year-on-year rises every year since 2002.

The King’s Fund said the poor results probably reflected public concern about the government’s controversial NHS reform plans.

The GfK survey also included a specific section on health visiting, reflecting the higher profile given to the specialty since the national recruitment programme was launched in February 2011.

It found only 42% of health visitors felt their team was able to give families “the services they need”. However, 87% said they felt their job was rewarding and 83% said they intended to stay in the specialty.

The research also found that 17% of nurses surveyed would consider retraining to become a health visitor.

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