Wednesday, 16 January 2013

NHS and nursing staff under pressure as staff shortages impact on patient care and safety


There is growing concern that the NHS might be at a tipping point, with top down reorganisation and massive cuts to budgets. In a previous article  I argued why it is disingenuous for the government to claim that £20bn cut in the NHS budget could be made without affecting front line staff, doctors, nurses and vital technical support. The claim that 'streamlining' efficiency savings could be made without cuts in front line staff is wrong. The government knows this of course. But it doesn't stop them repeating the falsehood.

There is increasing evidence that cuts are affecting patient safety. According to rulings by the official safety watchdog, The Quality Care Commission, 17 hospital trusts have dangerously low numbers of nurses.

The Royal College of Nursing has identified 61,276 NHS posts which have either disappeared or are set to go as a result of cuts in spending and warn that the NHS is "sleep walking into a crisis." Nurses say that they "do not have enough staff to deliver good quality care. Demand for services is continuing to rise, however staffing levels are being slashed." But there are other worrying signs.

Last year, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the governing body for over  670,000 registered nurses and midwives, reported that there has been an unprecedented  increase in the numbers of nurses referred for conduct and fitness to practise investigations. In 2011-2012 there were 4,407 referrals compared with just under 3,000 in 2009-2010. That is a whopping increase of 48%.  Something has changed and currently we can only speculate on what that change might be. But there is one big question, and that is whether this increase represents a change in the culture of referral or whether it reflects a change in the working conditions of nurses.

Also last year another report was published, the NHS staff survey for 2011 which revealed some equally startling figures. Whilst the majority (87%) of nursing staff feel satisfied with the quality of care they provide to patients, only 67% reported being able to do their job to a standard they are personally pleased with. Critically, only 30% said there are enough staff in their hospital for them to do their job properly. Essentially nursing staff are 'overworked' and are having to deal with greater stress caused by staff shortages. It is inevitable that this will impact on patient safety.

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