New Reports Highlight Nursing Shortages
At the present time, there is a chronic workforce crisis in the NHS with nursing shortages sweeping wards. According to the British Medical Association (BMA), there are currently 9,053 medical vacancies and 47,496 nursing vacancies. In my opinion, as a former nurse, the scale of the number of unfilled posts and the associated pressure this puts on the existing workforce is greatly concerning.
A New Report by the Royal College of Nursing Highlights Nursing Shortages
A new report by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) called “Investing in Patient Safety and Outcomes” indicates that there are almost 40 % fewer nurses than there were ten years ago and that there will be 2,000 fewer qualified nurses graduating in 2025 than in 2024.
The report states that the government committed to a World Health Assembly Resolution to strengthen nursing and midwifery through investment in education, jobs, leadership, and service delivery. However, they argue that the UK government is not upholding this commitment in England.
The report suggests that increasing nurses’ pay would have an immediate positive impact on retention. Nurses working in the NHS have seen their salary levels cut by up to 20% in real terms between 2010 and 2022.
Unsafe Staffing Levels
The RCN report states that workload pressures, pay and staff shortages have had a profound impact on nursing staff. The report cites that in 2020, 73% of registered nurses now go to work expecting to experience unsafe staffing levels. This rose to 83% in 2022. The RCN states that the increase in the number of nursing staff reporting unsafe staffing levels is incredibly concerning particularly when demand for care is at such a high level and recent figures show an increase in excess deaths in England.
These difficult conditions have meant that nurses have felt that they have no choice but to go on strike. This is an unprecedented step for the RCN. After not accepting a 4.75% pay rise in December 2022 the strikes have continued with the latest strikes taking place on the 6 and 7 February 2023.
Nursing Shortages Resulting in Poor Patient Safety
An article by Megan Ford in Nursing Times following a survey found that 2 out of 5 nurses say that their mental health is worse now than it was at the peak of the pandemic. In a study called Healthcare staff Wellbeing, Burnout and Patient Safety (Hall & others) it was concluded that burnout and poor well-being was associated with poorer patient safety has significant implications for policy makers and management teams within healthcare settings. Staff shortages have inevitably had an adverse effect on patient safety.
Within the cases that we have seen there have been instances where there has been a lack of patient monitoring, particularly during night shifts or a shortage of specialist nurses. As a result, there have been delays in procedures. Issues such as these affect patient care and have implications for medical negligence claims.
Nursing Shortages Resulting in the Death of a Patient
A recent case highlights a situation where staffing shortages lead to the death of a patient. In this case, the family made the nursing staff aware of a series of episodes during a hospital stay. However, the nurse did not record the episodes in the patient’s notes due to staff shortages and a lack of time.
The hospital Trust confirmed that if the nurse had made the Consultant aware of the episodes, they could have ordered further tests before discharging the patient. Had this happened, the patient would not have passed away due to sepsis.
Comments from AWH Solicitors’ Medical Negligence Team
Until there is sufficient investment in training, workforce planning and recruitment, the current downward spiral of deteriorating staff well-being leading to a declining workforce will continue. It appears that until these issues are fixed patient safety will continue to be at risk of being compromised.
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