Of 1,426 nurses responding to a survey marking the anniversary, 41% said they did not plan to spend the rest of their career in the NHS.
RCN policy adviser Tim Curry said the high proportion related to anxiety about job security, as well as frustration with the service.
‘So many people are being asked to change jobs,’ he said. ‘People are starting to say: “if the NHS treats me like a disposable asset then I’ll behave like one”. If you start treating people as commodities then they’ll go elsewhere.’
The survey also revealed the extent the nursing profession has changed, with 83% of respondents saying that an NHS nurse from 1948 would not recognise nursing in 2008 as the same profession.
Just 35% thought that nurses in 2008 were dealing with the same fundamental issues as their colleagues of 60 years ago.
Mr Curry said it was a good thing the profession had chanced so much. ‘Nursing 50 years ago was regimented, restrictive, nurses were disempowered – I’m really pleased nurses [from 1948] wouldn’t recognise it today.’
But while unions welcomed the change to the profession, 77% of the nurses that responded to the NT survey said they thought it would have been better to be a nurse in the past than it would be to be a nurse today.
It was clear from comments by many respondents that this was because they felt they had less time to spend with patients.
Dave Munday, professional officer at Unite/CPHVA, the negative responses to the survey revealed low morale among nurses at the moment.
‘It’s a shame because I think the responses reflect the fact that a lot of nurses feel quite demoralised in the NHS at the moment,’ he said. ‘The NHS is amazing and most countries around the world recognise that, but I think these results just show nurses frustration at the moment.’
NT is running a series of special articles to celebrate the 60th anniversary of nursing in the NHS. Read this week's NT for the first in the series and go online at nursingtimes.net to view a range of other anniversary material, including old exam papers and NT articles from the past.