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Patients "at risk" from NHS cuts

Fewer than one in 10 nurses believe there is adequate staffing on NHS wards to deliver good-quality care, a study by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has revealed.

The survey, which polled more than 1,900 nurses, indicated that 7% believe there are enough staff to care for patients properly, while 80% think there is not and 13% are unsure.

The RCN study also revealed that 83% believe poor staffing can have an adverse effect on patient safety.

Due to impending cuts which have left posts unfilled and recruitment freezes in place, nurses admitted they are coming under increasing pressure and that care may be 'dumbed down' because of staffing numbers.

According to the RCN, 27,000 jobs had been earmarked for cuts, which include redundancies, posts not being filled when staff retire or leave and a dilution of the balance of fully-qualified staff with less-qualified assistants.

Of the 1,900 nurses polled, 46% revealed there had been unfilled vacancies in their workplace for more than six months, while 40% said a recruitment freeze was currently in place.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the RCN, revealed the government's reforms of the NHS and the drive to find £15 to £20 billion annually in 'efficiency savings' added to the pressure.

He said: 'The results of our survey act as a reality check for those saying that cuts aren't biting in the NHS.

'It is deeply worrying that some nurses are telling us that they do not have enough staff to deliver quality care and that safety could be compromised.

'The NHS is about to go through a very shaky transition period as a result of a far-reaching reform programme.

'Coupled with the drive to make efficiency savings, we are concerned at the NHS' ability to cope, especially as staff are clearly under so much pressure.

'What we are hearing is that there are fewer staff doing more work, and nurses themselves are saying it could have a damaging effect on patient care.'

A Department of Health spokesman added: 'While it is for local trusts to determine their specific workforce needs, there has been a national increase in the number of nursing and midwifery staff working in the NHS in England over the last year.

'The NHS must still find efficiency savings but we have been clear that every penny saved - including a 45% reduction in management costs - will be reinvested to support front line services and improve quality.'

Copyright © Press Association 2011

Royal College of Nursing

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"Staffing levels and less experienced staff are preventing patients from receiving quality care, as I have found out just this week. Having just had vascular surgery and having had the most rubbish after-care with an on-call nurse who couldn't answer my questions and seemed to be picking the answers out of a book" - T Hopinson, Notts

"Yes, absolutely. Staff are working at dangerously low levels. Morale is very poor and we are still being told to 'work smarter', there will be another 15% cut later this/next year. In community we can no longer offer a good service, and social work who were picking up the slack are now being cut to the point where they are now unable to support some of the
vulnerable families which we cannot help either. In health visiting only very basic services are available and more and more child protection work keeps us from preventive work and health education. Despite raising risk assessments and reporting in detail to managers we are still expected to
offer a wide range of services and supports which we are no longer able to provide. Bringing in less qualified and less experienced staff is not likely to reduce the problem. The public deserve better. We know that stresses affect physical and mental health. When there is such a widespread financial crisis and so many people are unemployed the demands
on services are greater. Family dynamics deteriorate and there is more physical abuse, neglect and abuse of substance. Match this will diluted or absent supportive services and you have all the ingredients for a major public health disaster. That is the reality of the situation. Workers have given as much as they can but there is no slack in the system and no contingency plan" - Deirdre Budd, Scotland