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Exclusive: Nurses blame fall in staff for rise in workplace pressures

  • 11 Comments
  • 80% of nurses feel pressure has increased over last year
  • 65% of nurses had to leave care undone on last shift
  • 53% report a reduction in permanent staff this year

Eight out of 10 nurses report being under more pressure at work than they were 12 months ago, with many warning they have seen a fall in permanent staff numbers and some so short-staffed that they can no longer guarantee safe care for their patients all of the time.

Our annual survey gives a snapshot of the workforce issues currently facing the profession just before the crucial winter period and at a time when concerns are growing that finances are overtaking safe staffing in trust priorities.

“Some days I have to stop from crying, because I just feel like I am fighting fires”

Survey respondent

Asked if they were working under more or less pressure than this time last year, 54% of respondents said “significantly more” and 26% “a bit more”.

More than half of the 950 nurses that completed our survey said they “rarely” or “never” had either sufficient staff or time to ensure safe care was provided to patients, while a third assessed their ward or team as “always” being short-staffed.

One respondent to our survey described how their ward had gone from 38 up to 49 beds but that staffing levels had not changed. “Some days I have to stop from crying, because I just feel like I am fighting fires and never make head way in my tasks,” they said.

Another, who had only qualified relatively recently, described nursing as “exhausting”, with every shift “stretched” and nurses “just expected to absorb more and more work”.

NT annual survey 2015

Nurses blame fall in staff for rise in workplace pressures

Source: Jennifer Van Schoor

“I enjoy it for the variety… but wish I had more time to provide better care,” they said. “I also wish the public appreciated more the pressures nurses are under, that our work was more fairly rewarded and that managers showed they understood what life is like on the floor – I am working several hours for free every week just to try and get everything done.”

The nurse added: “I have only been in the profession for 18 months, after retraining in my late 20s and I am already wondering how I am going to physically be able to do this job in the years to come.”

Two-thirds of respondents said that care activities were left undone during their last shift due to lack of time. The most common activities being left undone were those relating to more holistic care, such as comforting or talking with patients or developing or updating nursing care plans.

“If we are to care for people, we need the staff, the resources and the support”

Survey respondent

Reflecting the current national nursing shortage, 70% said it had been “difficult” or in some cases “impossible” to recruit new staff over the last 12 months. Over half said their team or ward had fewer permanent registered staff than a year ago.

More than half described morale in their ward, unit or team as bad, while a further 22% said that while morale was good at the moment it was beginning to deteriorate.

NT annual survey 2015

Nurses blame fall in staff for rise in workplace pressures

Source: Jennifer Van Schoor

Seven out of 10 respondents told Nursing Times they had seriously considered leaving the profession over the last 12 months, with overwork and pressure by far the most common reason given.

Asked if their organisation was prepared for the coming winter, 45% said they would struggle to provide a safer service all the time and 24% warned that it would be “touch and go”.

However, winter pressures were not viewed by many as the biggest challenge facing nursing in the NHS at the moment – with short-staffing and financial pressures judged to be of most concern.

One survey respondent stated: “If we are to care for people, we need the staff, the resources and the support.”

NT annual survey 2015

Nurses blame fall in staff for rise in workplace pressures

Source: Jennifer Van Schoor

  • 11 Comments

Readers' comments (11)

  • Pretty obvious I would have thought. What is the nursing profession doing about this - absolutely nothing that is effective. In one nation the government has removed the word 'safe' from their Nurse Staffing bill. It is time that the nursing profession hit the UK government's reputation very hard and I mean striking for safe practice. The doctors won so why can't the nurses do the same.

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  • Theatre Nurses too.Not just only ward nurses suffering involves everybody.

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  • As nursing responsibilities and level of clinical competencies increase, so does the expected workload. It is a rare insight in a ward manager supervising a ward or Unit to immediately respond to nursing shortage with additional pairs of hands in his/her department until an omission or commission has been observed. We need to be proactive with nursing shortage in all nursing subspecialities than reactive.

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  • Sadly I can't see the situation changing.
    Nurses must datix staff shortages and the impact they have.
    Expect more NMC cases related to these shortages with nurses blamed as usual

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  • I'm very glad I'm not just starting my nursing career...retention and recruitment need to be seriously addressed. Morale is at the lowest point I have ever seen it with permanent burnout a real possibility. It greatly saddens me. It's not just a case of a pay cut in real terms across the board over the last 5-10 years but the strain of working conditions, stringent ( often not supported) revalidation criteria and not feeling valued for the incredibly hard job we all do...whatever role we are in

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  • Patient safety is compromised most days where i work. Staffing let alone skill mix is ignored and more so in higher care areas. Looking after 6 high care beds is a joke if some are level 2. Looking after 12-14 in general medical wards is a joke. I have matrons `Apprentice style-must get to the top at all costs` with no thought to risking peoples lives - they think they are retailers selling pop.

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  • I was a young nurse when Thatcher did the same thing to hospitals years ago. I had to work night duties alone on a thirty two bedded ward. There were many examples of patients being hurt by an overwhelmed hospital. Once the matron asked me to apologize to a patient who I hadn't given a bedpan to in time because I was resuscitating another patient. I was so angry, I told her the patient certainty deserved an apology but it should come from whoever decided it was a good idea to make nurses work alone!

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  • Talking about when Thatcher was in, well I got recruited then. I did not have a clue what was really going on with not enough staff, come getting people all the way from the Carribean. I thought these English don't like nursing, but it wasn't that at all.

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  • Someone, somewhere please save nurses - we are drowning!

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  • As a student nurse about to qualify in a year, it leaves me with fear and disappointment that I can already see that I am going to struggle on a ward when they expect nurses to work on a ratio to 1:12 .How can this be safe, this does affect the care provided to the patients I've seen it with my own eyes .Nurse do an amazing Job but they are only human at the end of the day.

    Being a patient myself just after Christmas I experienced how short staffed wards are.I was in a side room and saw nobody in the day apart from when they came to do my observations because they knew I was Independent and they where so busy with other patients due to staff shortages.It made me feel vulnerable and I didn't want to press my buzzer because I knew the nurses where up against it. This ongoing issue needs to be addressed, as it is impacting patients.

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