Belfast Telegraph

Nurses: we’re at breaking point

Morale among our nurses at an all-time low, says report

By Lisa Smyth

A survey of thousands of nurses has raised serious concerns over patient care here — with almost two-thirds saying hospitals do not have enough staff.

Nursing staff are being stretched to the limit — working late and through breaks, unable to provide adequate patient care or attend training necessary to improve skills and expertise, it has been claimed.

The shocking new report from public service union Unison has been released amid growing concerns over healthcare in Northern Ireland — with numerous claims that patients here are being denied the same level of care as their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The report by Unison revealed:

  • 59% of nurses here described staffing levels as poor.
  • 85% said their workload is heavier now than three years ago.
  • Almost a third reported difficulties getting time off for essential training.

Waiting times for hospital appointments and in our A&Es are among the worst in the UK, while patients are often denied treatments available elsewhere.

Unison said its survey also found an increasing amount of nursing care is being delivered by less qualified staff.

It further revealed that a low number of nurses feel confident reporting concerns about patient care due to staffing levels.

Kieran McCarthy, a member of the Stormont health committee, said: “The findings of this survey have confirmed my fears and it is simply unacceptable that patient care is being adversely affected by cutting corners and trying to save money.”

Anne Speed from Unison said the situation has arisen as a result of cuts to the health budget.

“Since December 2009 the nursing workforce has decreased by 2% with a further 500 posts expected to be cut by 2013,” she said. “The number of district nurses has also fallen by 8% over the past two years.

“It is patient care that is suffering as a result of these cuts.

“Unison’s 2010 report Care In The Balance outlines that a minimum nurse to patient ratio saves lives and results in better patient care. Yet, this survey shows that 85% of nurses across all trusts and bands state their workload is heavier than three years ago.

“Nursing staff are stretched to the limit. Whilst patient dependency has increased, staffing levels on wards have not matched this.”

The report, Stretched On The Frontline — Who Really Cares?, produced as a result of the survey has also raised questions over morale of nurses.

Some 80% of respondents said it is worse compared to 2009.

One nurse told the survey: “Staff morale is at an all-time low. We are told we are lucky to have a job.”

Another nurse said: “I am in two minds whether to leave as I love my job... if only I got a chance to do my job properly and spend adequate time with patients.”

The report stressed that low morale can have a negative impact on patient care. Eoin Stewart, a staff nurse at Belfast’s Mater hospital, said: “The pressure associated with the increased workload is exacerbated by the drive by management to sustain 95% levels of bed occupancy on wards and by the pressures linked to managing bed days and discharge targets. Nurses want to deliver care to patients, but are getting increasingly frustrated that this is no longer the focus of their role.”

Health Minister Edwin Poots welcomed the findings.

But he said the number of nurses in Northern Ireland is the same as in 2008 and there has been an investment of £2m recurrent funding for frontline services.

He said this will support sisters to release time to focus on quality, safety and patient experience.

Story so far

Unison’s Nurse Forum issued a survey to 10,000 nurses across the five health trusts in June and July this year. Nearly 2,000 surveys were returned, providing detailed information on nurses’ attitudes to current staffing levels and their impact on workload. Unison is the leading trade union in Northern Ireland and the largest trade union in the UK with more than 1.3m members.

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