The RCN has found 57% of nursing staff across healthcare settings are thinking about quitting or actively planning to quit their job, in an employment survey.
The poll – of 9,577 nurses, healthcare support workers and nursing associates, in October last year – found the top reasons for wanting to leave included feeling undervalued (70%), feeling exhausted (60%) and not being able to give patients the level of care they would like to (47%).
It also revealed 78% of respondents have worked while unwell at least once over the past year. In addition, 74% worked beyond their contracted hours at least once a week, and 53% of these members said this overtime was unpaid.
Many are also delaying, or not taking, time off work, with 18% saying they hadn’t asked for their full annual leave entitlement and 15% saying they had been asked to delay holiday time.
Of the total respondents, 692 worked in general practice, 472 worked in care homes, and 339 were district or community nurses.
A general practice nurse wrote in their response: ‘I have cancelled annual leave due to feeling guilty about leaving no cover for patients. I have not had a full week off since before the start of Covid.’
Other respondents described nurses as undervalued.
A district nurse from Northern Ireland said: ‘Nursing as a profession is continually undervalued. Throughout the years our job description has had more and more roles added on and our responsibilities are continually increasing.’
And a healthcare assistant working in the community in England wrote: ‘The Government needs to value the profession before it’s too late. It possibly is already. Would I recommend nursing as a career? I would have for years but I always tell people who ask now to think very carefully.’
Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary, said: ‘Nursing undoubtedly has the potential to be a hugely rich and satisfying career, but with tens of thousands of nursing jobs unfilled the situation is unsustainable.
‘All nursing staff need funded and supported time out – not limited to annual leave – regardless of which setting they work in.
‘Likewise, where staff have taken time off due to illness, rest and recuperation must be central to decision-making about their return to work. Proper mental and psychological support services need to be made available.’
The RCN said the findings would be used to inform its submission to the NHS Pay Review Body, which will recommend to the UK Government what pay award NHS staff should get in 2022/23.
Last month, a survey found more than two-thirds of healthcare staff including nurses have experienced burnout because of pressures during the Covid-19 pandemic.