Nursing staff ‘exhausted’ as many feel coerced into working unpaid overtime

Nearly half (40%) of nurses admit to not being paid for any additional hours worked.

Matt Bodell
10 May 2021
Young female surgeon tired after an operation

Staff feel pressured to help reduce the huge backlog of patients needing treatment.

Thousands of nursing and medical staff say they feel under coerced by employers into work extra shifts, often unpaid.


Surveys undertaken by the British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) reveal that already exhausted often feel pressured to work extra shifts without adequate rest to help reduce the huge backlog of patients needing treatment in NHS hospitals.

Over half of the doctors surveyed admitted to working extra hours (58.1%), with around a third of them (28.5%) reporting that these hours were unpaid. Nearly half (44.2%) of the doctors who responded felt pressured by their employer to do extra hours, while over a third (36%) had either skipped taking full breaks altogether or taken them on rare occasions.

In July 2020, one-third of nursing staff in all sectors reported they are working longer hours. Of these, 40% of respondents are not being paid for the additional hours, with a further 18% only sometimes being paid.

A Critical Care Sister from Hampshire, said; “Vast numbers of nurses are burnt out, experiencing severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD – speaking from experience myself, the struggle is very real.”


“I worry for the safety of patients, as well as staff, as we start to tackle this mountain. Unsafe staffing levels compromise the care and safety of our patients. ”

Highly skilled health care workers.

The latest NHS England staff survey found that over 65% of registered nurses and a third (30.4%) of nursing support workers worked extra hours that were unpaid.

A document published by the RCN in February outlines eight key principles the NHS should follow as services start to resume a normal service – these focus on staff recovery and patient safety.

Royal College of Nursing Acting Chief Executive and General Secretary, Pat Cullen, responded to the news; “Exhausted health and care staff, without whom we would not have turned the tide of the pandemic, must be supported to recover.


“We cannot return to the understaffed wards, care homes and clinics from before the pandemic. Investment in staffing and pay is about both patient safety and the health of our workers.

“After this experience, nursing staff expect decisive action and investment to guarantee there are enough highly-skilled health care workers to meet our country’s needs now and in the future.

“That means leaders must take steps to retain the nursing staff we have, as well as to increase entry into the profession.”

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