Nurses across the UK have added to the outcry that health services are under immense pressure this winter, warning that patients are in some cases waiting up to 23 hours in hospital corridors and in others are being discharged before they are well enough.
The Royal College of Nursing said it had heard from frontline nurses about working conditions that were the worst they had ever seen. It comes after days of media reports claiming the NHS is struggling more than it has ever done in previous winter months.
“Frontline nurses who want to give the best care they can… are being told to discharge patients before they are fit just to free up beds”
Earlier this week, prime minister Theresa May rejected recent claims by the Red Cross charity that under-pressure NHS and social care services had created a “humanitarian crisis” – but did admit there were “huge pressures” on the NHS.
The NHS Providers organisation has also said the NHS was under “unprecedented pressure” and that, while the health service was “by and large” coping, there were a small number of areas that were failing to cope – leading to scenarios such as long trolley waits.
Meanwhile, health secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested this week that the national accident and emergency target of 95% of patients being seen and treated within four hours may need to be relaxed in the future – by only applying it to patients with urgent needs rather than minor problems.
The RCN has called for the government to take action over the problems by reinstating student nurse bursaries and ending pay restraint for NHS staff, to increase the size of the nursing workforce.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary at the RCN, said in a statement today: “How long does the government think the NHS can survive on the dedication and good will of staff who are at breaking point?”
“We are calling on the government to reinstate student funding and get rid of the pay cap”
“We have heard from frontline nurses who want to give the best care they can for their patients but are being told to discharge patients before they are fit just to free up beds,” she said. “It’s a vicious circle with community health and social care also struggling to cope with demand.”
Ms Davies warned of 24,000 empty nursing posts across the country, which she said was expected to worsen.
She pointed to the 20% average drop in applications to nursing degrees since the removal of bursaries, as well as the government’s 1% pay cap policy as barriers to increasing nurse staffing levels.
Ms Davies said: “Nursing staff make up the biggest proportion of the NHS workforce. They are the backbone of the health service. We are calling on the government to reinstate student funding and get rid of the pay cap.
“The government must attract more people into the profession and invest in nursing across all areas. We need to have enough nurses with the right skills, in the right places – in hospitals, in people’s homes, in schools and in care homes. The future of nursing is at stake,” she added.
“Current investment levels are not sufficient to meet current or future patient needs”
Meanwhile, members of council of the Royal College of Physicians have written to Ms May setting out their concerns about the capacity and resources needed to meet the demands on the NHS.
The letter was signed by RCP president Professor Jane Dacre and 49 members of council, representing 33,000 doctors across 30 specialties and 750 physician associates.
The signatories said the increase in patient need was outpacing the resources available, services were “too often paralysed by spiralling demand to transform and modernise”, hospitals were “over-full, with too few qualified staff” and there were ”increasing reports of staff contemplating the sad decision to leave”.
The council members said that “current investment levels are not sufficient to meet current or future patient needs” and the immediate actions needed are ”the reinvigoration of social care services and urgent capital investment in infrastructure”.