Too many patients die alone on understaffed wards, say nurses

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Patients are dying alone in NHS hospitals because there are too few staff to care for them, according to a new report.

A survey of more than 30,000 nurses found many feeling stressed and burnt out, with a quarter saying they care for 14 patients or more at a time.

Nurses described sobbing at the end of shifts, patients being left to die alone when they have no family, and said managing patients was like “spinning plates”.

One nurse said: “Patient care is seriously compromised when there are not enough staff. Patients at the end of life have no-one to sit with them. It is very upsetting when they have no family. Too many patients are dying alone.”

Another said: “Being unable to attend to a dying patient as quickly as they need is soul-destroying.”

The report, from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), is mainly based on UK nurses’ experience of their last shift.

Some 58 per cent in Yorkshire and the Humber said there was a shortfall in planned staffing of one or more registered nurses on their last shift, while 41 per cent of shifts were short of one or more healthcare support workers.

One in five nurses on a shift are temporary agency staff, while 36 per cent of all nurses said essential patient care is left undone due to a lack of time.

This includes staff being unable to give medicines to patients on time, not having time to adequately manage patient pain or brush their teeth, and not enough time to complete records or give comfort.

One in 10 nurses described the care on their last shift as poor, rising to 14 per cent of those working in A&E.

Furthermore, three-quarters of nurses worked an extra hour on average on top of their shift without pay.

One nurse said: “I feel like I’m spinning plates, except the plates are patients - that to me is the worst feeling. A feeling of having no control.

“Going from crisis to crisis continuously is so incredibly stressful. Frontline staff feel like they are working on a battlefield; we don’t know who to go to first.”

Another said: “I drove home from work sobbing today, knowing that the patients that I cared for did not get even a fraction of the level of care that I would consider “acceptable”.

“I would be devastated if my family or friends were in the hospital I work in, as there are just not enough staff to go around.”

The RCN is calling for new legislation across the UK that guarantees safe levels of staffing.

Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN, 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.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, added: “This situation must not be allowed to become catastrophic - but without decisive action soon, that will be the outcome.”

The Department of Health said over 52,000 nurses were in training. A statement added: “We are helping the NHS to make sure it has the right staff, in the right place, at the right time to provide safe care — that’s why there are over 29,600 more professionally qualified clinical staff including over 11,300 more nurses on our wards since May 2010. We have also committed to funding an extra 10,000 places for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals by 2020, to ensure the NHS has the staff it needs both now and in the future.”