Scots NHS nurses feel the heat while vacancies go unfilled

Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland.
Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland.

Nursing staff in Scotland feel “under enormous pressure” and too busy to provide the level of care they would like, according to a new Royal College of Nurses survey.

The RCN adds that the “overwhelming message” from nurses comes during a year in which record vacancy levels were recorded, with more than 4,000 posts unfilled.

Key findings from the survey include:

Six in ten respondents agree they are under too much pressure at work.

The same number say they are too busy to provide the level of care they would like.

Just over half work beyond their contracted hours on every shift, or several times every week.

Over two thirds said they had experienced verbal abuse by patients/service users or relatives, and more than a third said they had experienced bullying.

One un-named Band 5 staff nurse who responded to the survey said: “The most upsetting and stressful part of my job is being unable to give good patient care due to poor staffing levels, and unfortunately it has become ‘normal’ to work under this constant stress.

“Never have I felt pressure like this in my career and have never felt so undervalued.”

Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland Director, said that messages of increased demand and workforce pressures must not be accepted as simply the status quo.

She said: “Across both acute and community settings there are simply too few nursing staff, and working in such a depleted workforce is like having an arm and a leg tied behind your back.

“Nursing staff really need the long-anticipated Integrated Workforce Plan to match the Scottish Government’s stated aspirations for the health and care workforce, but it’s now more than 12 months overdue.”

She added: “At its best, nursing gives people a sense of identity, pride, achievement and huge fulfilment.

“Almost three quarters of respondents view nursing as a rewarding career, but it’s clear that nurses and health care support workers are feeling overworked in under-resourced environments.

“It’s time to make staff wellbeing a major priority and the first step is to safeguard staff psychological health through the guidance and implementation for the safe staffing Act.”

However earlier this year the BMA in Scotland chairman Lewis Morrison argued new legislation to ensure safe staffing levels will not be enough to solve what he sees as an NHS workforce crisis.

He welcomed the Scottish Parliament’s decision to pass the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill, but said further action was needed.

“Put simply, we just don’t have enough doctors to deliver the care that our system demands,” Dr Morrison said.

“Vacancies are at too high a level, and this just puts more pressure on the doctors in post.

“While there are many positives from the bill, it will not create more doctors – or staff of any type – simply by becoming law.

“Instead, we need much more concerted and targeted action to recruit and retain doctors and make the profession an attractive career choice once again.”