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Survey reveals NHS staff concerns over workforce shortages and patient safety


Eight of 10 NHS workers have raised concerns about staffing levels and patient safety, with many also saying that their warnings had been ignored, suggests a national media survey.

The survey, carried out by the Observer and Guardian newspapers, found 80% of respondents had raised concerns about insufficient staff being on duty to give patients safe and high-quality care.

“Basic care is consistently compromised”

Survey respondent

In addition, 59% of the health service nurses, doctors and managers who responded to the survey said no action was taken in response to their concerns being raised, according to the results published by the papers over the weekend.

Over 1,000 members of the Observer and Guardian healthcare network took part in the new poll, the findings of which echo previous research by unions and other organisations.

It also comes in the wake of the health and social care secretary acknowledging earlier this month that workforce was his “biggest worry” at the moment, with particular concerns about nursing.

The UK nursing register has been shrinking for the first time in recent history, nurse vacancy rates in England are at an all time high, and a regulator recently said that the NHS was short of 100,000 staff.

The self-selecting survey of health professionals from a range of roles was conducted in the weeks immediately after the start of the new year, when the service was in the grip of the “winter crisis”.

Almost half of respondents (48%) said care had been compromised on their last shift, while only 2% felt there were always enough people to provide safe care.

Meanwhile, 53% of respondents said they could not provide the level of care they want to and 77% had considered leaving their job in the NHS.

Other findings from the survey included that 75% of respondents ranked safe staffing levels as the first or second most pressing problem currently facing the health service.

“There is only one senior midwife when there should be at least two”

Survey respondent

Furthermore, 76% often or always worked beyond their contracted hours and 75% skipped breaks, while 67% said there was a shortfall in planned staffing in their department when they last went in to work.

One senior nurse, who works in a large accident and emergency department in the North of England, was quoted as saying that she regularly managed more than double the number of patients that her unit had capacity for.

“I have seen clinical errors increase and staff blamed for them with little appreciation of the overwhelming pressure,” she said. “Basic care is consistently compromised.”

In addition, a midwife who completed the survey said that “every other shift” was usually short staffed. “We are normally two midwives down when this happens, or on particularly bad shifts, there is only one senior midwife when there should be at least two,” she told the papers.

She added: “We are then allocated multiple patients or are pressured to transfer patients more quickly than we would like.”

“It’s not possible to give any sort of quality service”

Survey respondent

Meanwhile, a health visitor said: “I share a caseload of 1,000 children. I am contracted for 25 hours a week, and my colleague 37.5 hours. It’s not possible to give any sort of quality service.”

In response, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We have record numbers of staff in the NHS, but there is more to do.

“We announced the biggest increase in training places for doctors and nurses in NHS history,” he told the papers.

Last week, the Royal College of Nursing launched a new campaign designed to encourage nursing staff to “rest, rehydrate, refuel” during shifts.

Under the banner of the “3Rs”, it has published a set of resources, including posters and advice with the aim of making staff think about the consequences of not looking after themselves while on shift.


Readers' comments (2)

  • This is nothing new. I have had safety concerns for years with the lack of practical skills in my new colleagues. Skills I had often well before my training ended.
    I am sick of being told my advanced skills are worthless without the degree to back them up with the associated 2500 or more word essays or reflections.
    It was this philosophy that was part of the reason I left the NHS.
    Regardless of the lack of qualification, when recently a patient, I felt safer in the hands of experienced Care assistants.
    Nursing lost so much besides numbers to fill the ever increasing haemorrhage of staff leaving. The loss of a Registered nurse who could be relied upon to be at the bedside. The drive for academics in nursing has robbed patients of the hands on bedside care from registered nurses (that are not specialist nurses doing doctors jobs who in turn are being deskilled). Registered nurses who are signing off HCA work without even seeing the patient it refers to apart from at drugrounds where they simply put the drugs on a table and walk away. I am not even sure that they are aware they are often not safe practitioners in this basic skill.
    Registered nurses not checking on their sicker patients leaving it to HCAs to report back.
    Hearing stories outside of hospitals now I don’t attempt to justify or inform the levels nursing has sunk to.
    I sometimes feel guilty for jumping ship like a rat. Having my registration put at risk by Staff not capable of the job was no longer an option

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  • Much as I agree with what has been said so far I don’t think that the drive for academics has created the situation we see now. We need well educated skilled RNs to ensure the right care at the right time. These university educated professionals are not getting more money so how can that be affecting a staff shortage like this? The focus on academic qualifications is a red herring. If the staffing levels allowed it RNs would not always be in the office doing paperwork, they’d be working with patients being hands on & getting effective mentor ship when they qualify etc.

    The problem has been, for a long time, that the drive has been to reduce overheads and staff are the biggest. 6 years ago we were being told to reduce headcount by the SHA, workforce planning has always been a way of making sure providers don't increase costs.

    This has been coming our way for 10 years- and it’ll take ten years to reverse it.

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