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'The NHS needs more nurses to make it safe'


Nurses feel undervalued and overworked. That’s not going to surprise any of you. You are living that reality every day when you go to work.

But on page 2 we have the evidence to support what you’ve been feeling and saying to us. We have conducted an exclusive survey with ITV’s new breakfast television show Good Morning Britain that shows 82% of the nearly 2,000 nurses we’ve spoken to feel they don’t have enough time to give adequate care. Just over a quarter said they feel they put lives at risk because they are too busy and overworked to provide care the way they want to.

I am delighted that ITV is covering this important story and recognising that what’s desperately needed to make the healthcare system safe is more nurses. The more awareness programmes like this can raise, and the more pressure national media can put on the government to do something about this, the better. Because they certainly aren’t listening to nurses or The Royal College of Nursing or the other unions when they make the same point.

Last week we celebrated the Student Nursing Times Awards and it was an amazing atmosphere. What was incredible was to hear from nurses starting out on their journey, enthusiastic about providing the best care they could. And adamant they could do it.

What the health secretary has got at the moment is a service that is stretched so thin that it will break. In fact, it has broken numerous times already

As I have said before, compassion and the will to do a fantastic job isn’t missing in the profession - those awards prove that.

Liz Redfern, former deputy chief nursing officer for England and Nursing Times Awards 2013 Lifetime Achievement Winner, made an important point at the Student Nursing Times Awards. She said that “quality is what you do when no one else is looking”. That is so true - but this survey sends a powerful message that there is a lack of resource to provide that quality. And we keep hearing this message again and again. It came out in the Unison annual staff survey Running On Empty, published last month, and has emerged in every survey we’ve run on staffing levels, including our most recent, which was published in February on the anniversary of the publication of the Francis Report into care failings at Mid Staffs.

If the health secretary really wants to create a more compassionate, patient-centred NHS then he needs to employ more nurses. Because what he’s got at the moment is a service that is stretched so thin that it will break. In fact, it has broken numerous times already as many scandals prove.

When will the government realise that what the health service does not need are slogans, catchy phrases and platitudes about safety - it needs enough staff to lookafter patients.

Jenni Middleon, editor

jenni.middleton@emap. Follow me on Twitter


Readers' comments (6)

  • Thank goodness that Jenni Middleton and her staff at Nursing Times truly care about those of us in the thick of it.
    She is quite correct that the results of the RCN and Unison surveys which should make sobering and worrying reading are not recieving the attention they should be.
    Surely the titles of the reports; Beyond Breaking Point RCN and Running on Empty Unison say it all.
    Wake up Govt we are drowning in an NHS that apperas to be losing its soul.

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  • What we are all failing to take into account is this is a fight we can't win. Why? Because the government want the NHS to break! This will pave the way for the 'only solution is to sell it off to private enterprise' More profits for the fat cats and their buddy's with the not so secret backhanders. We keep hearing about the fact that various advisor's to the government have a whole previous career in private healthcare yet where is the 'national outrage' at these obvious vested interests.
    The only comfort I have is that when I am old and ailing so will my friends be and as they are nurses too perhaps we can care for each other, maybe a few may still have their wits about them and can dole out medication whilst others may still be able to get down on their knees to bandage a leg ulcer. What a Legacy!

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  • Well, who would have thought it! Hope they manage to do better in other areas where public safety is at stake such as air, land and sea transport.

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  • 30 years ago instead of competing Sr Care Assistants who resentfully compete due to their unregulated clinical functions which directly emulate RNs but at half the salary, there existed another grade of carer and earning between the CA and RN and who directly supported the RN allowing her to manage and choose her focus of responsibility via the opportunity to delegate routine tasks like drug administration etc. Now able to focus upon direct care the RN observed and improved care practices directly she could now be where she needed to be and focus according to unit need.
    I am of course referring to the enrolled nurse, selected for her temperament and attitude and an essential enabler in preventing the RN from becoming sadly what she indeed has become, a graduate clinical robot.

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  • So, to all clinical nurses on the wards (as opposed to a researcher like me): in your opinion is there EVER a day, on any acute ward in England, when you think that 8 patients per registered nurse is sufficient?

    No matter what the specific acuity, or how experienced your staff - the research would suggest that its simply not enough nurses to give patients the time they deserve (and to get complete care delivered in a compassionate way). In our research, 45% of acute medical/surgical wards had an average of 8 patients or more per RN on a day shift (excluding nurse in charge). And 86% of nurses said they left some (necessary) care undone on their last shift.
    That's why in my view we need to not only improve HOW Trusts plan their nurse staffing (and hold them to account), but to draw a line in the sand, and ensure that low RN staffing levels are never allowed.

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  • I agree with Jane Ball (KCL) | 12-May-2014 3:50 pm.

    Managers often have no health professional background and are quick to adopt useless 'tools' for staffing assessment and patient acuity. It's hard for clinical nurses to resist this facile nonsense, because they risk their careers.

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