NHS Nurse Shortages continuing to pose a threat to patient safety

On 6 June 2022, the Royal College of Nursing (“RCN”) general secretary, Pat Cullen, spoke at the RCN’s annual conference in Glasgow. She discussed the current impact of the UK’s nurse shortages. This was expanded upon in depth in The Royal College of Nursing Report (“the Report”) published also on 6 June 2022 prior to the conference. Pat Cullen emphasised that a growing number of patients are at risk of not receiving the care they need, as a result of the continuing staffing shortages.

What does The Report say?

The Report highlights that 1 in 10 nurse posts in England are currently unfilled. In the Report, the Royal College of Nursing union gathered feedback from 20,000 nurses across the UK, in relation to their recent experiences during shifts. The overwhelming conclusion and response was that staff were concerned about patient safety, with staff fearful that patient care is currently being compromised. Examples of patient care being neglected ranged from a lack of personal care, such as being unable to assist patients to the toilet, to the extremes of severely ill patients getting treatment late or medicine not being given at all. Additionally, hospital staff have reported that sometimes they have to treat patients in inappropriate settings such as waiting rooms or corridors because of the time pressures they are under.

The effect on the industry

At the conference Pat Cullen warned that the current stresses on the frontline were beginning to drive nurses out of the profession. This is supported by figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council which showed that 25,000 nurses and midwives left the UK register last year, more than were trained domestically. Pat Cullen stated,

“Staff are being driven out by the current way of working – the shortage of staff and too often the poor culture.”

Currently, all parts of the UK have set out plans to increase the number of nurses working in the NHS. This is following on from the Government’s pledge to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 by 2024. The Department of Health and Social Care said that despite the problems being documented the Government in England was over halfway to recruiting the extra 50,000 nurses it had promised by 2024. The latest figures demonstrate that there are now currently 321,000 nurses working in the NHS in England, which is 30,000 higher than in September 2019.


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