Nurses are being left in ‘moral distress’ because they are too short-staffed to treat patients properly, the RCN has claimed following a major survey.
Nearly half of the 4,845 nurses responding to the RCN’s biennial employment survey said patient care was compromised once or twice every week by short staffing. Of those, one in four said this was true on most or every shift.
RCN head of employment relations Josie Irwin said: “It’s about not having [time to have] that conversation with a patient who’s having an operation the next day. Or district nurses not having a conversation with an elderly person about their foot care or the management of a long term condition.
“If they’re not able to do that, it becomes a type of moral distress, there’s a sense of dereliction [of duties],” she said.
While the average number of nursing staff on wards has changed little since 2007, skill mix changes mean only 60 per cent of nursing staff on duty during the day are registered nurses, compared with 66 per cent two years ago.
Additionally the average number of patients per nurse has risen from 6.9 to 7.9 in the day and 9.1 to 10.6 at night. Paediatric nurses look after an average of 4.6 patients, compared with nurses on elderly care wards who are responsible for 11.3 patients.
Ms Irwin said some trusts were involving nurses in decisions about skill mix, but others were using it as an excuse to save money. The latter were likely to have higher rates of problems such as bullying, she said.
The RCN has published a manifesto to coincide with the survey, setting out the priorities it would like politicians to focus on ahead of the next election.
|RCN manifesto priorities|
|Standing up for staff who speak out|
|Safer staffing levels|
|Give nurses the time to train|
|Protect the nation’s health|
|Improve care for those with long-term conditions|
|Sustain healthcare investment|
The survey also found that, because 200,000 expected to retire in the next ten years with fewer entering the profession, the number of trained nurses available in the UK may fall.
RCN general secretary Dr Peter Carter is calling for a pledge from all political parties that they would guarantee safe staffing levels for all nursing shifts. He said: “Policymakers must look at the workforce in conjunction with its ability to deliver high-quality and safe care. As we’ve seen too often, where there are not enough nurses, patient care suffers.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The local NHS must ensure it has the appropriate number of staff to deliver services for patients. It is important that it helps staff to use innovation and new technology to drive up the quality of care and deliver value for money.”