More than half of nursing staff have considered leaving the profession due to money problems, according to a “shocking” new survey that has sparked calls for employers to introduce greater support for struggling workers.
The poll, carried out by Cavell Nurses’ Trust and shared exclusively with Nursing Times, reveals a worryingly high number of UK nurses, midwives and health care assistants are living on the breadline.
“Life for all of us is fragile and when a crisis looms it can be difficult to respond”
It comes as NHS nursing and midwifery staff are only just beginning to see salary rises above 1% appear in their pay packets, following years of freezes and caps on remuneration increases.
Out of 1,149 respondents to the survey, 77% said they felt financially unprepared for a crisis such as a period of ill health, a relationship breakdown or a bereavement.
Meanwhile, more than half of respondents reported that they had £500 or less within their household to fall back on.
A further 10% had £500 to £1,000 and similar percentages had £1,000 to £2,000 or £2,000 to £3,000. As a result, 78% of respondents said their household had no more than £3,000 in total across their bank and savings accounts, plus any other investments.
“We are also hoping this creates a bit of conversation among nurses themselves”
The online survey, conducted over the summer in partnership with Nursing Times, showed 38% of those questioned struggled to afford food, resulting in a shocking 9% saying they had resorted to using a food bank.
Nursing Times believes the findings on food bank use are particularly significant as they mark the first time the issue has been supported by quantitative evidence.
Talk of their use by public sector workers has previously been largely anecdotal, with unions having referred to it in 2017 at the height of their campaigns to scrap the 1% cap on NHS pay rises.
Survey respondents also reported difficulties with covering the cost of caring for loved ones – both young and old – keeping their home safe and warm, and traveling to work.
Despite the apparent prevalence of financial pressures, only 12% of respondents said they would feel comfortable to talk to their employers if they were having serious money problems.
Cavell Nurses’ Trust supports UK nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants, both working and retired, when they are suffering personal or financial hardship.
The charity is using the results of the survey to encourage employers to join its new ‘Working with’ membership programme that is aspiring to create a “safety net” for all nursing staff in times of crisis.
“Each number is made up of real issues personally experienced by real people, in their everyday lives”
John Orchard, the charity’s chief executive, said: “I think what we are trying to communicate to organisations and individuals is that in a workforce of this size it’s natural there will be these sorts of issues, the real question is how as an industry do we want to respond to that.
“My hope is that the survey gives employers pause for thought, but the motivation to know that there is a solution for them and we can do something to help,” Mr Orchard told Nursing Times.
“We are also hoping this creates a bit of conversation among nurses themselves,” he said. “There has been a lot of really important conversation about wages recently. But I do think it’s important to focus on how are we doing, how am I doing, and how are my teammates doing, and for people to know if they feel like they have got nowhere to turn that Cavell Nurses’ Trust is here for them.”
He added: “We know we can do a great deal to support people when these crises happen and we know we can do a lot to help that person get back to doing the job they love, and we are asking for organisations who believe that is important to come along and join the membership programme so we can tackle this together.”
One of the key questions included in the poll asked nursing staff if their “financial situation” had ever led them to “consider leaving nursing or midwifery”, with a striking 55% of respondents saying “yes”.
Given the current recruitment and retention pressures facing the health service, trusts will be hoping pay rises this year will reduce the risk of nurses leaving over money worries.
Nurses’ charity reports 60% spike in calls for financial help
Unions, employers and the government in England and Scotland recently agreed a three-year pay deal that will see wages for most NHS nurses and midwives rise, with a similar deal also expected to be agreed for Wales.
Nurses and other NHS staff on the Agenda for Change contract in England will receive an average 6.5% rise in basic pay over three years. All but the very highest paid staff will get 3% in April 2018, 1.7% and a 1.1% lump sum in April 2019, and 1.7% from April 2020.
Meanwhile, the Scottish deal will mean many workers who currently earn up to £80,000 will receive a minimum cumulative uplift of 9% across 2018-19 to 2020-21. Staff in Wales are set to get 6.5%, if they subsequently agree to the proposals being offered there.
Taking into account the 2018 rise, annual salaries for registered nurses on Agenda for Change bands 5 to 8 in England range from £23,023 to £85,333 – depending on seniority and experience.
However, Mr Orchard insisted that salary was not the only issue at play when it came to nursing hardship.
Out of the 2,800 nursing professionals who have sought help from Cavell Nurses’ Trust this year, 49% had issues with health, 35% with finances and 16% with balancing their work, family and social lives.
“Nurses lives are as complicated as all of us, and life for all of us is fragile and when a crisis looms it can be difficult to respond,” said Mr Orchard.
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The survey also revealed that many nurses do not have enough money in the bank to enjoy their time away from work, with almost 60% of respondents saying they struggled to fund leisure activities and hobbies.
Mr Orchard said: “I’m not a nurse but I do know that nursing is a very demanding profession and I think most employers would want their staff to have enriched, interesting lives outside of work, especially because being a nurse is so often about providing care and soft skills and life experience, so I do think that’s really shocking.”
When asked why nursing staff may be more vulnerable to hardship than other workers, he pointed to gender inequality. “Nursing is a vast majority female workforce and I think anyone taking a cursory look at the news at the minute would acknowledge that we don’t live in an equal society,” he said. “So, looking at a really large scale, I think that may be a factor, but it’s very important that we don’t paint nursing professionals as victims.”
The results of the survey will be included in a new report called: Getting to work: Financial crisis and our nation’s nursing professionals, which is due to be published by the charity later this month.
The document will highlight that the percentage of nurses who are the primary earner for their household has increased to 57%, from 48% in 2007. “When we consider that 38% of the people of working age we helped since November 2016 had dependants in their household, the impact of a financial crisis on children is very significant indeed,” states a draft version of the report shared with Nursing Times.
In his introduction to the report, Cavell Nurses’ Trust chair Simon Knighton said: “Messages in this report like ‘77% of nursing professionals are unprepared for a sudden financial crisis’ or ‘half of all nurses say they have £500 or less to survive on in a crisis’ are not just statistics. Each number is made up of real issues personally experienced by real people, in their everyday lives.
“Over two million people are working to, or retired from, the provision of selfless care as nurses, midwives and health care assistants,” he said in the report title Getting to Work: Financial crisis and our nation’s nursing professionals.
He added: “At any time, there are some who face personal crisis and many thousands more who are more dangerously close to personal crisis than it is reasonable to expect in a modern compassionate society,” he added.
Through its Working With programme, Cavell Nurses’ Trust helps member organisations improve their support to nursing staff suffering personal or financial problems and gives their employees access to the charity’s range of services such as emergency grants and a listening ear.
Cavell Nurses’ Trust