Nurses have begun to feel the effects of the public sector spending squeeze in their workplaces.
In a Nursing Times online poll of 600 readers, 86 per cent said they had experienced cost control measures at their trust as a result of the recession.
The survey follows a report by the management consultants McKinsey, seen by Nursing Times, that advised the Department of Health to consider recruitment freezes to help cut costs. Seventy-eight per cent of hospital nurses said restrictions on agency or bank staff had been introduced at their trusts and 49 per cent said there were recruitment freezes.
These freezes were reported as being even higher among community nurses with 63 per cent saying they had been introduced at their workplace. The NHS has been trying to cut agency staff for years, but 71 per cent of nurses said they had first noticed this and other measures taking effect over the last six months.
Nurses reported that cover for staff sickness and maternity leave were not being filled and overtime had been banned.
One said the reduction in staffing levels had left colleagues “stretched to breaking point” with posts on the ward cut from 12 to eight. A community nurse said a recruitment freeze had increased the workload “to the point where it is making good, hardworking nurses ill”.
Both hospital and community nurses also reported equipment shortages and attributed these to financial constraints.
“We often seem to run out over the weekend and have to beg off other wards until our delivery. Pharmacy supplies often run out completely,” said one nurse.
“We even run out of some foodstuffs over the weekend. I joined the NHS in 2002 and am ashamed to say we are certainly not providing the standard of care now that we did [then]. I am totally disillusioned by it all.”
Nurses also said they were under pressure to see more patients and to discharge them earlier.
Imperial College Healthcare Trust nursing director Janice Sigsworth said that with length of stays reducing, patient throughput had increased.
“This means the amount of time spent dealing with admissions and discharge has increased. That can feel like a more intensive workload,” she said.
She added she was not aware of any recruitment freezes at her trust or in London but that they had given a renewed push to “good housekeeping measures”.
“We found that in some areas sickness levels, agency staff and vacancy levels have been creeping up so we’ve been asking senior nurses to manage this as well as they can to minimise additional cost.”
The survey’s findings were no surprise to Unison head of nursing Gail Adams, who said: “These results mirror Unison’s own survey, released this week, showing that funding cuts were among the top fi ve concerns for NHSworkers, with fear of losing their jobs topping the poll. Cutting back on agency staff and freezing recruitment adds to work pressures of already busy staff.”
NHS chief executive David Nicholson has said the NHS needs to make savings of £15bn- £20bn by 2014. Royal College of Nursing senior employment relations adviser Gerry O’Dwyer said it was inevitable that nursing would be affected.
“If you are dealing with £15bn-£20bn, you don’t save that by not providing biscuits at board meetings. It’ll be through patient length of stay, staff productivity and skill mix,” he said.
The Nursing Times survey came as the RCN said it was involved in “very tentative” discussions about linking nurses’ productivity to pay.
Mr O’Dwyer said: “We have had some engagement with employers about how that might be achieved. We want to explore how our members might benefi t from that individually and collectively.”
But he stressed talks were far from the negotiation stage.