UNISON warns of staff exodus as two-thirds plan to leave the NHS

Low pay and staff shortages driving NHS staff to consider quitting the service

Two-thirds (65 per cent) of NHS workers are seriously thinking about leaving their jobs, with two in five saying they are considering a move beyond healthcare, according to a UNISON report published on Tuesday.

The report – entitled Undervalued, Overwhelmed – is based on a survey of 10,500 NHS workers.* It says that staff are considering working elsewhere as a result of low pay (58 per cent), staff shortages (58 per cent) and the changing nature of the NHS (56 per cent).

Four in five (82 per cent) said their workload had increased, as had their stress levels (79 per cent) and the number of patients they were caring for (62 per cent). As a result, more than a third (36 per cent) believe the quality of care provided has got worse.

Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of respondents reported that staff shortages were happening frequently, and 67 per cent said that there weren’t enough staff to do the work required. Worryingly, one in five (21 per cent) said that their employer was not doing anything about staff shortages, and almost half (49 per cent) reported relying on agency staff.

As a result, more than half the respondents (55 per cent) are doing unpaid overtime every week. For three-quarters (76 per cent) this is up to five hours a week unpaid, while for a quarter (24 per cent) it is six hours or more. The biggest reason for all this unpaid overtime was that the job would be impossible to do without it (50 per cent), while one in four (41 per cent) said they did it because they wanted to provide the best care possible for patients.

Of those who said they were overworked, half admitted it had a detrimental effect upon their personal health (49 per cent) and more than a quarter (27 per cent) on their family lives.

The main reason why so many staff remain in the NHS is their commitment to the service and to patients (54 per cent). But the fact that a quarter (25 per cent) said they were only still in post because they couldn’t find another job is a concern as it suggests they will leave when the labour market picks up.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Ministers wasted a huge amount on a costly reorganisation the NHS did not need. They are allowing our NHS to implode and need to recognise that the squeeze on NHS finances is directly affecting staff and patients.

The chronic understaffing and mounting pressure on NHS workers mean many are at the very end of their tethers and feel they have no other option but to leave.

“It is not right that so many health staff now have second jobs just to make ends meet. But NHS pay scales have fallen way behind living costs so nurses, healthcare assistants, ambulance staff and medical secretaries have to work as many hours as they can to be able to feed their families and pay their bills.

“Health staff work beyond their hours to care for those who need it. The government must recognise the risk to patient care and raise salaries now to stop an NHS staff exodus. The health service cannot afford to lose its dedicated and skilled workforce, and we are urging the government to work with us to improve the health and well-being of staff.”

Read the report: Undervalued, overwhelmed [PDF]

Notes to editors

The report is available from the UNISON media team. The report is part of the union’s submission to the NHS Pay Review Body.

*10,589 NHS workers took part in an online survey between May and July 2015. Here are some of their quotes:

A secretary in the North West said: “This time next year I won’t be able to afford to stay in this job.”

A mental health nurse in the South West said: “We go above and beyond for all the patients on the ward. Clothing them by collecting old clothes from friends and families and bringing in toiletries as some patients have nothing.”

A ward sister/charge nurse in the North West said: “I think the workload and pressure are under-estimated. 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.”

An occupational therapist in Scotland said: “We should get a decent cost of living increase. But what we do get is a kick in the teeth. Especially as they keep asking for more and more with less and less.”

UNISON media contacts:

Fatima Ayad M: 07508 080383 E: f.ayad@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: l.chinchen@unison.co.uk