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Safe staffing research is 'needed to reveal the scale of the problem' in community settings

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Research into safe staffing levels in community services is needed to uncover the scale of staff shortages, which are threatening patient care and causing workers to go off sick, Unison members have urged.

At the union’s annual health conference this week, its members said NHS staff working in the community were increasingly leaving their jobs or having to take time off due to work-related stress.

“Exhausted nurses are more likely to make mistakes, more likely to have accidents and injuries”

Unison member

They noted there was a “chronic” shortage of community nurses and highlighted that staff based outside of hospitals often worked on their own.

This meant they “may feel totally responsible for decisions they make about escalating care, for calling specialists, or referring patients on to emergency care” which added to the pressures.

At the conference in Brighton yesterday, they referred to a survey by Unison last year that found a “whole army of community nurses” had reported concerns about inadequate staffing levels, leaving workers “exhausted and demoralised” and patient care compromised.

“Frequently, patients are discharged too soon to free up beds in our overcrowded and overstretched hospitals adding to the load of the pressure of those working in the community who pick up the cases,” said one Unison member.

“Exhausted nurses are more likely to make mistakes, more likely to have accidents and injuries, more likely to have an incident in a car as they dash from place to place to see their patients,” she added. “Many are now giving up the battle to continue in nursing.”

“Many are now giving up the battle to continue in nursing”

Unison member

Another Unison member referred to a colleague, a healthcare support worker in a district nursing team, who now “goes out every day on her own doing things that would have been done by a band 6 nurse 20 years ago – like cannulation and syringe drivers”.

In addition, community staff were increasingly required to work without returning to their base, meaning “you are totally on your own apart from the coordinator who you might never get through to at your health centre”, she added.

Research was needed to find out the extent to which a lack of safe staffing in NHS community services was having an impact on workers and patient care, said the Unison members.

“It’s clear what needs to be done – more nurses to be attracted into the profession, but also to retain and support the current staff we have,” they said.

A motion calling for the union to conduct research into safe staffing and highlight unsafe working conditions was passed at yesterday’s event.

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