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Nursing staff are at 'breaking point' as health service deals with winter pressures, claims RCN


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”

Janet Davies

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”

Janet Davies

“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”

RCP letter

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”.


Readers' comments (9)

  • michael stone

    Professor David Oliver has also just written about this in his open-access BMJ piece at:

    His 'slant' is how do the descriptions of what is happening, by the government and senior NHS Bodies, fir in with 'the duty of candour'.

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  • Every year the same crisis in our hospitals. Does the government care answer NO if they did we would not be in this continued mess. We need bigger hospitals more staff with highly skilled allied professionals like me.

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  • Well Anonymouse
    Yes every year the same old story including your type of response, every year all Governments throw more mony into the bottomless pits and every year the NHS fails to spend it properly.

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  • P

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  • Divert the resources to frontline staff not to the non-clinical financial directors. CE)'s who are just temporary and are protecting their own salaries and inhumane corporate targets at the expense of caring for sick people, which is the whole point of hospitals. Patients are entitled to be looked after by highly paid qualified nurses who sacrifice their home life for this vocation and are penalised for this by politicians and the useless managerial hierachy of the NHS. Shame on them! They will be old one day and they better have good health insurance - as what goes around comes around. ..

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  • The Health Minister and Directors of hospitals should be clinically qualified. Unless you work as a clinician to understand the elements of care, you cannot make effective decisions based on health. The NHS is being destroyed by people who are not empathetic to its users and frontline workers

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  • A crsis that was man made and then mismanaged.

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  • The people I feel sorry for are my mother's generation who grew up during the war years and now left feeling as though they are unwanted bed-blockers when they do finally need to visit hospital. Sadly I think we are being readied for a pay-as-you-go health service in future, with people being penalised for being overweight, smoking too much, living too long, etc etc

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  • Been a nurse 46 yrs sad to say the NHS is in the worst state I ever seen need to go backwards and let people who know what their doing run it bring back the matrons nurses need more hands on training also money is in NHS we know same mismanaged by people who have no idea what they are about i.e. When contracts renewed article contracted for not fit for purpose or not suitable for purpose you end up using more dearer in the long run they don't ask the staff who actually use the items drug returns to pharmacy incinerated when could be put back into stock but rigid rules mean drug budget different from staff budget and no movement between them even though an extra pharmacist to return the returns to stock would save £00000.00 and pay her salary beracracy!!!!

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