Patients are dying alone in NHS hospitals because there are too few staff to care for them, a damning new report reveals.
A survey of more than 30,000 nurses found many feel stressed and burnt out, with a quarter saying they care for 14 patients or more at a time.
Nurses described sobbing at the end of shifts, patients being left to die alone when they have no family, and said managing patients was like ‘spinning plates’.
Other whistle-blowers said patient care is ‘seriously compromised’ and described being unable to attend to a dying patient as ‘soul-destroying’.
The report, from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), is mainly based on UK nurses’ experience of their last shift.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN, said: ‘When this many professionals blow the whistle, they cannot be overlooked.
A survey of more than 30,000 nurses in the NHS found many feel stressed and burnt out, with a quarter saying they care for 14 patients or more at a time
‘The nursing shortage is biting hard and needs the attention of ministers – this warning comes from the very people they cannot afford to lose.
‘The findings in this report are a direct result of years of poor planning and cost-cutting – it was entirely predictable.
‘We urgently need assurances from every health and care provider that services are safe for patients, and new laws on staffing should follow swiftly.’
What else did the report find?
The report also showed that 55 per cent said there was a shortfall in planned staffing of one or more registered nurses on their last shift.
One in five nurses on a shift are temporary agency staff, while 36 per cent of all nurses said essential patient care is left undone due to a lack of time.
The nursing shortage is biting hard and needs the attention of ministers – this warning comes from the very people they cannot afford to lose
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing
This includes staff being unable to give medicines to patients on time, not having time to adequately manage patient pain or brush their teeth, and not enough time to complete records or give comfort.
One in 10 nurses described the care on their last shift as poor, rising to 14 per cent of those working in A&E.
The report found that 53 per cent of all nurses said care was compromised on their last shift and the same amount felt upset or sad that they could not provide the level of care they wanted.
No action being taken by bosses
And even when nurses related concerns about the lack of staff, 44 per cent said no action was taken by bosses.
Furthermore, three-quarters of nurses worked an extra hour on average on top of their shift without pay.
Seven out of 10 nurses said their last daytime shift exceeded official staffing guidelines, which say more than eight patients to one nurse should act as a ‘red flag’.
WHAT DID THE NURSES SAY?
- ‘Patient care is seriously compromised when there are not enough staff. Patients at the end of life have no-one to sit with them. It is very upsetting when they have no family. Too many patients are dying alone.’
- ‘Being unable to attend to a dying patient as quickly as they need is soul-destroying.’
- ‘I feel like I’m spinning plates, except the plates are patients – that to me is the worst feeling. A feeling of having no control.
- ‘Going from crisis to crisis continuously is so incredibly stressful. Frontline staff feel like they are working on a battlefield; we don’t know who to go to first.’
- ‘I drove home from work sobbing today, knowing that the patients that I cared for did not get even a fraction of the level of care that I would consider “acceptable”. I would be devastated if my family or friends were in the hospital I work in, as there are just not enough staff to go around and whilst we do our best, it’s not enough.’
- ‘On a night shift when you’re down to two staff nurses and have to look after 32 medically unwell people, if just one of those patients becomes acutely unwell overnight you cannot effectively look after everyone else.’
Yet 26 per cent of nurses reported shifts with 14 or more patients per nurse.
The RCN is calling for new legislation across the UK that guarantees safe levels of staffing.
The crisis will soon become ‘catastrophic’
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘This report makes for grim and upsetting reading.
‘It confirms that the safety and dignity of patients in hospital is increasingly being compromised as a direct result of policy choices over many years.
‘This situation must not be allowed to become catastrophic – but without decisive action soon, that will be the outcome.’
The staffing shortage
Experts have previously said the recruitment and retention of nurses is one of the biggest challenges the NHS has faced.
Figures show there is a shortage of 30,000 nurses in England alone, but many are concerned Brexit could worsen the crisis.
Health officials have touted the idea of making language tests easier to encourage more foreign nurses, of which the NHS is reliant on, to practice in Britain.
Nose dive statistics that were released in June showed that just 46 nurses from the EU registered to work in the UK in April.
Such applications plummeted from the 1,304 recorded last July, with many deeming the public sector pay cap responsible.
The widely debated cap on public sector pay increases was introduced by then Chancellor George Osborne in 2012.
It was rolled over in the 2015 budget, meaning such staff are limited to just a 1 per cent increase in salary each year until 2020. But nurses have said such freezes on their pay have seen their income plummet by £3,000 since 2010.
The Royal College of Nursing organised a summer of protests in pursuit to see the cap scrapped. The Government has since announced it will be scrapped next year.