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Doctors and nurses ‘spread too thinly’ for safe care


A new survey of doctors reveals the enormous pressures on the whole NHS workforce, with some reporting they are “hanging on by their claws” or feel like they are “on the Titanic”.

The survey of more than 2,100 members of the Royal College of Physicians found believed patient safety has deteriorated over the past 12 months, while 37% feel the quality of care has got worse.

“Hospitals are bursting at the seams and to cope we are forced to treat people in corridors”

Janet Davies

The majority – 84% – said they had experienced staffing shortages across their team, while 82% believed the workforce was demoralised.

According to the online survey undertaken in January and February this year, 74% of respondents said they were worried about the ability of their service to deliver safe care in the next 12 months.

The findings form part of the Reality Check: Delivering Care Under Pressure report (see attached PDF below) launched at the RCP’s annual conference today.

It highlighted the need to address shortages of both nursing and medical staff with doctors, nurses and other professionals “all spread too thinly, risking unsafe or poor care”.

Doctors’ responses to the survey demonstrate the impact of staffing shortages with comments like there were “55 escalation beds in operation today with no extra medical or nursing staff – completely unsafe”.

One survey respondent reported patients were dying in corridors. “We have patients being managed in corridors. Some deaths occurring in corridors,” said the doctor. “The atmosphere in the emergency department is frantic, with evidence of low morale, burnout and high turnover of staff.”

Another said the commitment of all staff was the main factor holding things together. “The fact that safety hasn’t worsened is purely due to the dedication and hard work of all staff – from admin and cleaners through to nurses, support services and all grades of doctor,” the doctor said.

“We are all covering rota gaps, working long hours, checking things get done. It isn’t sustainable and I worry that things will soon become unsafe.”

Royal College of Nursing

Pay rise above 1% ‘needed to ease nurse crisis’

Janet Davies

Janet Davies, the Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive and general secretary, said nursing staff shared doctors’ fears that things will get even worse in the next year.

“Hospitals are bursting at the seams and to cope we are forced to treat people in corridors,” she said.

“If the government wants to stop patients and pressure piling up in hospitals, they must address the shortcomings in public health and community services, value the nursing staff we have and invest in the nursing workforce,” she added.

The report calls for more investment in the NHS workforce, including training enough doctors to address staffing gaps alongside measures to address nursing shortages and explore innovative staffing models.

It also calls on government to set “realistic targets” for efficiency savings and come up with a new plan for health and social care to meet the UK’s needs in the long term.


Related files

Readers' comments (3)

  • 1. sort out the NMC. They do not protect the public they protect bad managers
    2.stop bullying and harassment of nurses totally and rid the NHS of toxic managers. That includes the NMC
    3 one of two things. Either increase nursing levels massively or decrease paper work massively, preferably both
    4 nurses must be regarded as the equal of other professions not subordinate to them which is another weakness the NMC has imposed on us ie we can no longer even defend ourselves without risking a referral. We are an easy target for anyones malice
    5. the RCN needs to represent us effectively ,they are all to often part of the system that attacks us
    5 until this happens this country does not deserve a nursing profession
    6 I have commented before and I warn any youngster thinking of taking up nursing not to waste their talents and future in a rotten profession. I am pleased that I have put off about 12 so far.
    7. hence anonymity, otherwise I would be liable to be facing charges of bringing nursing into disrepute. It is the NMC and toxic management which in reality brings nursing into disrepute

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  • Well said and so true but sadly nobody will listen. Nursing is being destroyed by those who lead it .

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  • Thank you for this comment I felt alone. I needed support from the NMC due to problems with a manager who simply disliked me despite being good at my job. I went to the NMC and they said we are not here for you we are only here to protect patients. If only this was true what about the Francis report where was the NMC to prevent this from happening. And How did the NMC protect my patients when the stopped me working for a month because I forgot to pay my pin by one working day because my father died. My ward had to work short staffed because they would not make a reasonable adjustment. Even with all the press and Francis report my trust want to cut staff when we are pushed to the limit. Why to save money of course!!!

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