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Survey: nurses propping up NHS with overtime

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Nurses are “propping up” the NHS by consistently working in excess of their contracted hours and providing last minute shift cover, according to findings from an ICM survey of 2,000 UK nurses.

The poll, commissioned by the Royal College of Nursing and revealed at the college’s annual congress on Sunday, found 95% of respondents reported working in excess of their contracted hours, with 22% saying they did so on every shift.

Only 17% of respondents described staffing levels in their ward or team as quite or very good, while 25% said they provided last minute cover for absentee staff at least fortnightly.

Just under 40% said they missed their meal time at work at least three times a week and only 32% reported being able to get a drink of water when they needed to. 

Additionally, 21% stated that over the last six months they had spent a week or more at work despite feeling too unwell to attend.

Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “It is deeply worrying that nurses are telling us they do not have enough staff to deliver good quality care and our fear is that safety could also be compromised as a result.

“The NHS is going through considerable upheaval at the moment. Coupled with increasing demands on the health service including from a rise in people with long-term conditions, we are concerned at the NHS’ ability to cope. Trusts need to make sure they have the right numbers and balance of staff to deal with this.”

He added: “On top of working long hours, nurses are reporting missing meals and even struggling to get a drink of water.  Nurses are the oil in the engine of the NHS and this survey shows how much the NHS depends on their goodwill. Keeping staff healthy not only improves their motivation but helps with patient care, and ultimately this can save the NHS millions.”

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  • 5 Comments

Readers' comments (5)

  • These findings surely can't be a surprise to anyone?!

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  • Exactly Margaret!!! How long have I been saying this for? Nurses ARE the NHS!!!!

    And for this, we get thanked with low wages, low status, low respect, poor working conditions, threatened job cuts, threatened pay freezes/cuts, threatened increment freezes, threats to our pensions, etc etc.

    This doesn't just show how chronically understaffed we are; I think this shows just how much power and influence we do have. If we simply worked to rule, the NHS would crumble. If we went on all out strike, it would be brought to it's knees.

    Not that that's what I want of course. But it is an example of just how little we would have to do to wield enough power and influence to demand the working conditions, pay and status we all deserve. With very little action we can demand the working conditions, safe staffing levels and patient care all our patients deserve.

    But for that to happen, it is action that we NEED to take!

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  • We regularly miss meal breaks and are almost always late off shift; time which we never get back or get paid overtime for. If this happened in industry, the workers would be up in arms and the unions shouting from the rooftops. I'm afraid we have become so used to this that we just get on and do it without much protest. The trust is quids in until people get tired and stressed, and end up long term sick.

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  • I'd like to see some research done into the physical condition of nurses after a shift. for example, a blood test and questionnaire randomly done on various wards. i would suspect the results would indicate at least dehydration, possibly exhaustion and potentially stress and depression. Any Trust providing any job that causes physical deterioration has to be wrong. I doubt if anyone would adopt such a research proposal though.

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  • I would be interested in doing my doctorate on the topic of nurse health: comparing shift workers with non shift-working nurses. I would add cortisol levels to the above observations. Anyone want to fund me?

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