Chronic understaffing across the NHS is “putting patients lives at risk”, according to an annual survey of nurses by Unison published to coincide with the start of its health conference in Liverpool.
A survey of more than 2,700 nurses found that almost two-thirds (63%) believe hospital wards are understaffed and that nurses cannot guarantee a high quality of care for patients.
Unison’s report ‘Ratios Not Rationing’ warns that patient-to-nurse ratios are worst on wards for the acutely ill or injured. Two in five nurses working on these wards are caring for eight or more people, which, according to official guidance, is the point at which patient safety is put at risk.
The report is the sixth annual Unison survey into safe staffing in the NHS, and highlights how the situation has not improved over the last twelve months.
Unsafe staffing levels continue to affect patient care, say Unison. 63% of nurses say they are often too busy, or had no time at all, to communicate with patients and relatives.
Half of those surveyed said they have had to work through breaks to cover understaffed wards, and 41% said they worked for longer that their contracted hours.
The report says overworked nurses are facing exhaustion and burnout, with 54% of respondents considering leaving their job if they could and one in ten wanting to leave the profession altogether.
Unison is calling on the Government to take steps to improve nurse-to-patient ratios, which they say would also help to improve recruitment and encourage nurses to remain in the profession.
They add that more people may be encouraged to enter the nursing profession as a result.
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.”