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Majority of Brits think not enough nurses for safe care, poll finds

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Seven in 10 members of the public think there are too few nurses to deliver safe care, while some are scared their loved ones may not get the care they need, according to a poll published today.

The RCN, which conducted the survey of 1,752 people in April, also launched its first ever UK nursing workforce standards today to address these concerns over patient safety and safe, effective care.

The standards set out detailed expectations for employers, regulators and national organisations – such as employers prioritising patient safety over cost and introducing long-term contingency plans to ensure teams are not understaffed during absences or emergencies.

RCN acting chief executive Pat Cullen said the survey shows ‘patients experience nursing staff being rushed off their feet and want to know what is being done about it’, adding that ‘at no time has this been more evident than during the pandemic.’

She continued: ‘The shortage of nursing staff across all specialisms in the profession, in the NHS and independent sector, compromises patient safety. We are acting to address this by setting out these standards that must underpin workforce planning.’

The poll also found that 28% of respondents felt that themselves or their families may not get the care required when needed.

The 14 workforce standards cover three core themes of responsibility and accountability, clinical leadership and safety, and health, safety and wellbeing. Other expectations set out in the standards also includes that employers:

  • Ensure all workforce plans are designed by an executive nurse or equivalent, with patient safety prioritised over financial cost.
  • Not continue to be over-reliant on bank or agency staff.
  • Do not include student nurses or non-clinical staff in staffing numbers.
  • Recognise the nursing workforce with ‘fair, pay terms and conditions’.

The RCN stressed that the standards come amid a backdrop of 50,000 nurse vacancies in the NHS in the UK alone, with many more unrecorded vacancies in other healthcare settings and social care. This shortfall is expected to be exacerbated by the pandemic as many nurses face burnout.  

Ms Cullen also underlined that nursing is the ‘largest safety critical profession in healthcare’, meaning there must be enough nursing staff ‘with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time’.

NMC chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe said: ‘This is useful guidance from the RCN that nurses and their employers can use to assist them navigate the operational challenges they face to deliver the safe, kind and effective care our communities need.  

‘While our own registration data continues to show increasing numbers of skilled nursing staff, vacancy and turnover rates show we all have more to do to recruit and retain the workforce we need now and in the future.’

In March, a survey found thousands of nurses and midwives are more likely to quit their job than a year ago because of frustrations over pay and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health.