Pressures of winter could leave nurses ‘very vulnerable’ warns union

The NHS could be “very vulnerable this winter” due to staff shortages, according to the RCN nurses union.

Yorkshire’s problems were highlighted by a recent national health watchdog report, which said there were “significant shortages” at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals’ NHS Trust. Since the report, the trust has claimed that it has taken on 100 new nurses and is planning a recruitment drive.

The watchdog report into the Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust - carried out by the Care Quality Commission - had found that nurses on the acute respiratory unit were left alone to look after 22 patients overnight.

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The problems around the country have brought into the spotlight again by an analysis from the Health Service Journal. They showed that 207 out of 232 hospitals in England, or 90%, were unable to meet safe levels during the day, while 81% could not hit targets for night cover and some 79% missed both quotas.

Janet Davies, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN, said: “The RCN warned that cutting workforce numbers to fund the NHS reorganisation and to find the efficiency savings was the wrong course to take.

“Decisions were taken for financial reasons and nurse staffing lost out in the process.

“When a ward or a community team does not have enough nurses, it can be harder to meet the needs of patients, harder to recognise deterioration and harder to manage conditions in the long term.

“It doesn’t take much to tip services over the edge, and the NHS could be very vulnerable to a bad winter and any extra pressures.

“Nurses are committed to their patients and will continue to grapple with increased demand, heavy workloads and extra hours to provide the best care they possibly can.

“But if the NHS has a chance of keeping up with demand it needs to think clearly about how it retains, incentivises and values its hardworking staff.”

Separate research has suggested that nurses are under such pressure that they cannot guarantee safe care for their patients. The Nursing Times survey of almost 1,000 nurses found eight out of 10 are under more stress at work than they were 12 months ago.

Chancellor George Osborne last month announced that student nurse bursaries worth up to £20,000 will be scrapped.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Staffing is a priority - we’ve put almost 8,600 additional nurses on our wards since May 2010 and there are 50,000 nurses currently in training.”