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Have the NHS staff shortages reached crisis point?

View profile for Laura Owen
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Man dies from sepsis hours after attending his GP surgery

It would appear that NHS staff shortages have persisted since the birth of the NHS in 1948.  Nearly 70 years on, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) have today published a report entitled ‘Safe and Effective Staffing: Nursing Against the Odds’. 

This report covers the results of a survey undertaken in May 2017, of nursing and midwifery staff in the UK, which asked staff about their last shift or day worked in health or social care. In the space of only a fortnight, over 30,000 responses were received. The report has identified that:
  • 55% noticed a shortfall in the planned staffing levels
  • 36% did not have time to carry out necessary patient care
  • 20% of the registered nurses were temporary staff
  • 53% said that patient care was compromised
  • 53% felt “upset/sad” that they could not provide the level of care they wanted
  • 44% said no action was taken when they raised concerns about staffing levels
  • 93% of nursing staff worked extra unplanned and unpaid time

The report is hard hitting, with many of the personal accounts contained within the report upsetting.  It is apparent from the report that nurses are being prevented from doing the job they should be doing, and that not only are they, but also the patients are suffering as a result.   Patient care and safety is being severely compromised.  An unnamed adult acute nurse who took part in the survey, referred to feeling as though they were “spinning plates, expect the plates are patients – that to me is the worst feeling.  A feeling of having no control…”. 

Problems have been highlighted with staff being too busy to ensure that patients are given timely pain relief.  They have also identified a number of other problems including shockingly, medicines for sepsis, diabetes and Parkinson’s not being administered when they should have been, and patients not being moved in their beds, leading to an increased risk of pressure sores.  They are even aware of some hospitals for which volunteers were drafted in to sit with patients as their lives came to an end.

The RCN want a number of changes to ensure patient safety, not least increased funding, with political accountability for safe staffing.  The Department of Health has said that there will be another 10,000 more nurses by 2020.  Urgent action is clearly required, as Janet Davies the chief executive of the RCN has said “When thirty thousand professionals give you an account of their own last shift, they cannot be overlooked.  These are personal experiences – too often desperately sad – and their truth will have its own power in driving the debate forward.’