RCN report reveals the sad state of the NHS as staff leave work “sobbing” and patients die alone

The Royal College of Nursing has called for an urgent patient safety review after nurses ‘blow the whistle’ on staffing shortages. […]

Ian Snug
29 September 2017

The Royal College of Nursing has called for an urgent patient safety review after nurses ‘blow the whistle’ on staffing shortages.

The healthcare union is urging care providers to review if they have enough staff to provide safe and effective care this winter as it reveals the concerns of 30,000 front-line staff.


Research completed by the union showed that over half of shifts did not have the level of nurses planned and the shortage is compromising the care given to patients.

The survey of nursing staff in all four UK countries asked about staffing levels on their most recent shift and the quality of care provided. More than a third reported having to leave elements of patient care undone due to a lack of time, while two-thirds work an unpaid extra hour on average.

Seven in 10 nurses in England said their last daytime shift exceeded NICE guidelines, which state that more than eight patients to one nurse should act as a ‘red flag’. A quarter reported shifts with 14 or more patients per nurse.

Accident and emergency departments had the lowest quality ratings of all hospital services, with one in seven A&E nurses rating care as poor or very poor.


Almost half of all respondents said no action was taken when they raised concerns about staffing levels.

The respondents also reported that:

  • patients are no longer afforded enough dignity, even dying alone.
  • colleagues have burned out and have become sick themselves, unable to come to work.
  • staff leave work “sobbing” at the impact of shortages on patient care.
  • many question their future in nursing and contemplate leaving the profession.
  • they struggle to give their children and families enough support after shifts that can exceed 12 hours.

The findings come after the Nursing and Midwifery Council warned the nursing profession was shrinking as more people are leaving than joining the register.

Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said:


“When this many professionals blow the whistle, they cannot be overlooked. The nursing shortage is biting hard and needs the attention of Ministers – this warning comes from the very people they cannot afford to lose.

“The findings in this report are a direct result of years of poor planning and cost-cutting – it was entirely predictable.

“Nursing staff are revealing desperately sad experiences and their honesty must drive forward the policy debate. We urgently need assurances from every health and care provider that services are safe for patients, and new laws on staffing should follow swiftly.”

The RCN has repeated its call for increased funding for health and care services to meet the patient demand.

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