More hospital patients are reporting shortages of nursing staff on the wards, the latest national inpatient survey has revealed.
More than two in five patients – 42% – said there were not always enough nurses on duty to take care of them, up from 40% the previous year.
Fifty-eight per cent said there were “always” enough nurses, according to the survey of more than 70,000 people admitted to 161 hospitals last summer.
Thirty-one per cent said there were enough nurses some of the time while 11% reported there were “rarely or never enough nurses”.
Nine trusts got “significantly worse than average” results when patients were asked about staffing levels.
At the same time, the survey – carried out by the Picker Institute Europe for the Care Quality Commission – highlighted shortcomings in basic care, including help with food.
Of patients who needed assistance, 38% said they did not always get enough help from staff to eat their meals – up from 36% in 2010.
The results showed patients did not always get the individual attention they needed, said Penny Wood, chief executive of Picker Institute Europe.
“The reality is that the number of patients in NHS hospitals is increasing whilst the number of nurses available to care for them is falling,” she said.
“Fewer nurses are being asked to take on more work, and the inpatient survey shows how this impacts on patients’ experiences.
“Patients should always get the help they need to eat their meals, and they should always be confident that there are enough nurses on duty to take of them.”
The survey found patients’ trust and confidence in nurses had decreased slightly since the previous year.
Seventy-four per cent said they “always” had trust and confidence in the nurses treating them, 22% said that was only “sometimes” while 4% said they had no confidence or trust in nursing staff.
However, it also found improvements with a higher proportion reporting nurses “always” cleaned their hands between patients and more saying the way doctors and nurses worked together was “excellent”.
Seventy-nine per cent of inpatients said that overall they were “always” treated with dignity and respect while in hospital – no change from the previous year. Eighteen per cent said this was “sometimes” the case and three per cent said they were not treated with dignity and respect.
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “This survey raises a number of concerns about staffing levels, waiting times and patient hydration and nutrition.
“It is particularly worrying that the number of patients who report there are not enough nurses on duty has risen to 42%. This ties in with our own research, which shows that more than 56,000 posts are being stripped out of the NHS. It is a simple fact that without adequate numbers of healthcare care staff, patient care will suffer.
“We fear that trusts are now cutting frontline staff and services that vulnerable patients rely on in a short sighted attempted to save money.”