Nurses have spoken out about pressure and stress at work as part of a union report, which suggests around two thirds of NHS workers are seriously considering leaving their jobs.
The Undervalued, Overwhelmed report, which is based on a survey of 10,500 Unison members working in the NHS, found staffing shortages, low pay and changes in the health service were key reasons for wanting to move on.
Overall, the findings paint a rather gloomy picture of the everyday pressures faced by frontline staff.
“The government must recognise the risk to patient care and raise salaries now to stop an NHS staff exodus”
For example, nurses claimed they were “at the centre of a perfect storm” with workload, stress and patient numbers all on the rise.
Eighty-two per cent of participants reported their workload had increased, while 79% said the number of patients they were caring for had gone up.
More than a third – 36% – said they felt quality of care had got worse as a result.
When it came to staffing levels, 64% of respondents said there were frequent staffing shortages in the last year. A further 21% said they were sometimes short and another 10% said this happened occasionally. Only 2% said there were never any staffing shortages.
Overall, 67% said they felt there were not enough staff to do the work required.
Worryingly, one in five – 21% – said their employers was not doing anything about staffing, while almost half – 49% – reported relying on agency staff.
As part of the survey, individual nurses shared their thoughts and experiences.
“The workload and pressure are under-estimated,” said one ward sister from the North West. “I don’t think people realise that our wages are going down, while many of us have to work free hours just to keep on top of things.”
The survey found 55% of participants were doing unpaid overtime every week. More than three quarters – 76% – said this was up to five hours a week unpaid, while the remaining quarter – 24% – said they did six hours or more.
“At the age of 40 I am living with my parents because I can’t afford private rent”
Band 6 nurse
Of those who said they were overworked, half said it had affected their own health.
Meanwhile, nearly two thirds said their pay had got worse in relation to the cost of living over the last 12 months, especially when it came to paying for food, fuel and transport.
“At the age of 40 I am living with my parents because I can’t afford private rent,” said one band 6 nurse from Greater London.
Others spoke about a lack of recognition for nurses, the work they do and the amount of training needed to keep up to date.
“The amount of work we do which goes on behind the scenes is huge,” said one band 5 mental health nurse from the South West.
“We go above and beyond for all the patients on the ward. The time and effort we take with care plans, discharge planning, managing risk,” they said. “People think it all happens by magic.”
Thirty-three per cent of survey respondents said they were thinking “very seriously” about leaving their current NHS job, while 32% said they were “seriously” considering leaving.
Of those who gave a reason for wanting to leave, 39% said they had thought about getting a new job completely outside the health service and healthcare.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the survey showed NHS workers were at breaking point with many struggling to make ends meet.
“The chronic understaffing and mounting pressures on NHS workers mean many are at the very end of their tethers and feel they have no option but to leave,” he said.
“Health staff work beyond their hours to care for those who need it,” he said. “The government must recognise the risk to patient care and raise salaries now to stop an NHS staff exodus.”
The report forms part of the union’s evidence submission to the NHS Pay Review Body, which is currently considering what to recommend to the government for future health service pay rises.