Many nurses struggle to provide the level of care they would like despite regularly working beyond their contracted hours, according to a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) report published today.
The RCN said the findings should be ‘required reading’ for politicians after 61% of more than 8,000 nurses surveyed reported being ‘too busy’ to deliver the standard of care they would like ‘with serious implications for patient safety’.
The College argued that nurses feeling ‘overworked and overloaded’ - due to increased demand, staffing shortages and a 'pervasive blame culture - are unable to provide the care they desire, leading to ‘moral distress’.
Of 8,307 RCN members surveyed – including 2,581 (31.8%) who work in the community or general practice - eight in 10 (84%) reported working at least once in the last year despite feeling too ill to do so.
Meanwhile, most nurses (77%) said they worked overtime at least once a week, 39% several times a week and 18% on every shift. Half (54%) of those who work additional hours reported that these were unpaid.
Nurses continue to fill underpaid with over half (60%) calling their pay band or grade either inappropriate or very inappropriate for reasons including stagnant wage levels and stress.
Many also felt that nursing pay is failing to reward their levels of responsibility, training and the ‘ever increasing scope of practice as nursing staff take on extra roles and duties’.
The report concluded: ‘It is clear to nursing staff that workload and work intensity have both grown significantly over recent years but their wages have not.’
It also noted that white respondents are twice as likely to be paid on higher pay grades than black respondents and almost three times as likely than Asian respondents.
In addition, a third (29%) of respondents had experienced physical abuse from patients, service users or their families in the past year, while 65% had received verbal abuse and 39% said they had been bullied by a colleague.
‘The consequences of conflict are clear to see,’ said the report, highlighting that half of those who had experienced bullying at work said they were looking for a new job, compared to 29% who had not.
Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said ‘the findings lay bare the serious consequences’ of failing to address the 43,000 NHS vacancies in England alone.
She called on politicians to introduce ‘proper financial help for nursing students in every nation in of the UK’ and safe staffing laws ‘to ensure there are enough nurses to provide safe care to patients’.
In the build-up to December’s general election, the Conservatives, Labour and the Green party said they would reinstate the student nurse bursary, while the Liberal Democrats will return it to areas struggling most with recruitment, after it was controversially axed in 2017.
Dame Donna continued: ‘Health and social care services can't hope to recruit and retain staff if they don’t focus on the employment experience of their staff, but our new survey findings show that for many nurses, the picture is poor.
‘Patients depend on nurses to keep them safe in hospitals, in care homes and in their own homes. At its best, nursing gives people a sense of identity, pride, achievement and a huge sense of fulfilment. But our findings show that the pressures on staff are becoming so overwhelming that we risk losing more nurses from the already depleted workforce.’
The survey is the latest in a long-running series undertaken with RCN members including registered nurses and health care support workers.
It comes after half of district nurses said they would leave the profession in the next six years amid ongoing issues over recruitment and retention.