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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.

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.



Nursing vacancies hit record high leaving patient care at risk

It can be “dangerous” when there aren’t enough nurses to provide care.



Patient Falls Risk with IV

There are now a record 43,671 empty nursing posts in the NHS in England alone.

NHS figures show that there are now a record 43,671 empty nursing posts in the NHS in England alone, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

The College says a global shortage of nurses alongside the removal of the nursing bursary has compounded this figure which now sees 12% of posts through the NHS in England without a full-time Registered Nurse.


Figures from the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) show a 29% overall decline in applications to undergraduate courses since 2015, when the bursary was cut by the Government.

In a report released today titled ‘Standing up for patient and public safety’, the Royal College of Nursing outlines the evidence of the need for a new law that allocates specific legal responsibilities for workforce planning and supply.

A new law is needed.

The report states that in order to address the record number of vacancies, and the gap between the numbers of health and care staff needed to deliver patient care vs. how many are in the system.

Figures included in the report reveal that the number of nursing staff has consistently failed to keep up with the dramatic rise in demand for services and the number of emergency admissions.

The report finally makes a further call for legal clarity on the roles, responsibilities, as well as accountabilities, for workforce planning and supply.

In September, after pressure from RCN members, NHS England and NHS Improvement asked the Government for clarity over who is accountable for the nursing workforce.

‘Nurses are working harder than ever’.

Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said: “Nurses are working harder than ever to deliver safe patient care but are being held back by a system that is legally lacking teeth. Despite the public, patients and nurses all agreeing that clarity is needed on responsibilities for delivering enough nurses, we have yet to see any government pledge anything of the like, and as a result are staring down the barrel at a record 43k empty nursing posts.

“We know how dangerous it can be when there aren’t enough nurses to provide care, but at present, almost all accountability rests with the frontline nurse working on the understaffed ward, rather than those responsible for the system they work in.

“We believe the time has come for change and that patient care was future-proofed by law, and that from the government down, decision makers are held to account.

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NHS calls for clarity on who is accountable for the nursing workforce

Figures suggest there are around 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies throughout the NHS in England.



Working nurses in the CCU

Healthcare leaders are calling for legislation to be included in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech.

NHS England and NHS Improvement have called on the Government to clarify who is accountable for the nursing workforce and the chronic problems it’s currently facing.

Following ongoing pressure from nursing unions, the two organisations met today and recommend that the government should “revisit with partners whether national responsibilities and duties in relation to workforce functions are sufficiently clear.”


With around 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies in the NHS in England and thousands more throughout social care, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) believes the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care should be legally accountable for the workforce.

Along with other health care leaders, Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN, written to the Government calling for the legislation proposed by NHS England and NHS Improvement to be included in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech.

Staff shortages have reached ‘alarming levels’.

Responding to the news, Dame Donna Kinnair said: “We are pleased that NHS England and NHS Improvement has recognised the concerns of RCN members and the public and has stated that the issue of accountability for workforce planning and supply remains an area that needs be resolved.”

“In the week after we have launched a major public facing campaign calling for investment in the nursing workforce as well as for accountability to be clarified in the law, yet again, the case is made for this to be taken seriously.

“We are clear that government is well placed to determine how accountability can be clarified in law.

Adding; “Staff shortages have reached alarming levels with at least 40,000 vacant registered nurse posts in the NHS in England alone with thousands more vacancies in public health and social care.

“We now hope government will listen to this message, as well as the voices of the thousands of members that responded to the NHS England engagement process, and bring forward this legislation, taking the opportunity to include accountability in government and throughout the health and care system, for workforce planning and supply.”

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