One in 10 nurse posts in England are going unfilled

Leonie Millard
Leonie Millard

Published: June 7th, 2022

7 min read

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen said patients were going without the care they needed because of a shortage of nurses. Ms Cullen will set out her concerns in detail during her speech to the RCN's annual conference.

It comes after the union gathered feedback from more than 20,000 nurses across the UK about their experiences during their most recent shifts.

The feedback showed that only a quarter of shifts had the planned number of registered nurses on duty. Nurses cited everything from basic personal care, such as helping patients going to the toilet, through to severely ill patients getting treatment late and medicines not being given. Hospital staff reported sometimes having to treat patients in inappropriate settings, such as waiting rooms and corridors, because of the time pressures.

The feedback suggested the problems were being seen across the UK in all types of settings from hospitals to care in the community and in mental health services. The RCN said the findings shone a light on the impact of the UK's nursing staff shortage, warning that nurses were being "driven out" of their profession.

Ms Cullen will tell members at the conference that "enough is enough". "Don't ever think that it is normal to not have enough staff to meet the needs of patients. It is not. "Today members are letting the full truth be known."

Ms Cullen warned the stresses on the frontline were beginning to drive nurses out of the profession.

Figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council show 25,000 nurses and midwives left the register last year in the UK - more than were trained domestically - although there are more nurses in total as a result of international recruitment.

"Staff are being driven out by the current way of working - the shortage of staff and too often the poor culture," Ms Cullen will say.

All parts of the UK have set out plans to increase the number of nurses working in the NHS. The latest figures show there are now 321,000 nurses working in the NHS in England - 30,000 more than in September 2019.

The Department of Health and Social Care said this showed that, despite the problems being documented, the government in England was over halfway to recruiting the 50,000 extra nurses it had promised by 2024.

Andrea Sutcliffe, who heads the UK Nursing and Midwifery Council, says two-thirds of the foreign recruits came from India and the Philippines. Relying to this extent on international recruits carries significant risks, she adds. "In the first three months of the pandemic our international registration dropped to nearly zero because people obviously weren't coming into the country. Our reliance upon overseas nurses means that we are vulnerable to changing circumstances elsewhere in the world." A mixture of increased recruitment from within the UK and better retention is needed, Sutcliffe adds.

Staffing shortages and training and the unavailability of different levels of staff are all blamed for difficulties that we often see recurring in hospital investigations when things go wrong.

Staffing shortages can in turn breed a lack of trust and faith in the system as delays are occasioned and nurses are stretched to maintain service standards and crucial paperwork.

Often a lack of continuity of care is raised where there is heavy reliance on agency workers. It is essential that when recruiting from abroad that the standards are met and that patients needs and complaints are understood.

We receive numerous enquiries from patients who perceive that they have received substandard care. There is a difference between negligence and a complaint, but it is clear that simply the way that people have been treated in terms of professionalism and compassion can alter how they view the service.

It is important that nursing remains a profession that skilled compassionate people are attracted to.

For further information please contact Leonie Millard

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