Patients still at risk from chronic nurse understaffing, says UNISON

Chronic understaffing across the NHS is putting patient lives at risk, according to UNISON’s UK-wide annual survey of nurses published today (Monday) at the start of its health conference in Liverpool.

The 2017 survey found that the situation has not improved over the last 12 months. Almost two-thirds (63%) of respondents still saying wards are so understaffed that nurses cannot ensure safe, dignified and compassionate care.

The report Ratios Not Rationing highlights how patient-to-nurse ratios are worst on wards for the acutely ill or injured. Here, more than two in five (41%) nurses are caring for eight or more people, the point at which patient safety is at risk– according to official guidance*.

The report reveals that unsafe staffing levels among nurses across the NHS are affecting patient care. Nearly two-thirds (63%) said they were so busy they either had no time at all or were rushed when trying to comfort or talk to patients and relatives.

Half had to work through their breaks to make up for the lack of colleagues, and four in ten (41%) worked more than their contracted hours.

This is leading to exhaustion and burnout, with more than half (54%) of respondents saying they would leave their current job if they could. One in ten said they want to leave nursing altogether.

Setting acceptable nurse-to-patient ratios would improve recruitment and encourage nurses to stay in the profession, UNISON believes. It could also make nursing more attractive to the next generation of recruits.

UNISON head of health Christina McAnea said: “Too few staff are still looking after too many patients, especially on wards where people are seriously ill. This is putting lives at risk.

“Nurses aren’t getting enough time to care properly because they’re so overstretched. The result is patients are ending up with pressure sores and suffering falls.

“It’s yet another worrying example of the pressures facing the NHS. Safe staffing should be a priority issue in the coming general election campaign.

“It’s time the government showed it cared by introducing minimum nurse to patient ratios. Then nurses wouldn’t have to ration their time, and patients would get the care they deserve.”

Notes to editors:
Ratios Not Rationing is the sixth annual UNISON survey into safe staffing. The full report will be published on Tuesday 25 April 2017 on UNISON’s website. Advance copies are available from the press office.
– The findings are based on responses from 2,704 nursing staff who completed an online questionnaire about their Tuesday 7 February 2017 shift.
– * The guidance for acute wards from health watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is there should be at least one nurse for every eight patients.

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