NHS nurses “don’t feel able to provide the level of care they should be” due to low staffing numbers, leading nurses have warned.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that nurses on the front line are “finding it increasingly difficult to do the job”.
In an interview with the Press Association, Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said that nursing shortages had occurred due to a “perfect storm” of organisations cutting back on nurses with reduced training places.
The comments come as the NHS in England launched its biggest ever recruitment drive trying to encourage schoolchildren to work in the health service.
The £8 million campaign will highlight professions across the health service, initially focusing on nursing.
Figures from NHS Improvement in May highlighted that, in addition to the 1.1 million whole-time equivalent (WTE) staff employed by NHS providers in England, there were almost 93,000 WTE vacancies. This includes nearly 36,000 nurses and almost 10,000 doctors.
The RCN said that staffing shortages in the NHS are a “source of huge pressure” and can force nurses to leave the profession. But it said the campaign “can break that cycle”.
Ms Davies told the Press Association: “The issue we have at the moment is that we don’t have enough nurses and that they are hard to recruit.
“That’s because we have not trained enough and some time ago in order to balance the books we did not recruit as many nurses as were needed.”
She said this was a “perfect storm”, adding: “The population and patient need is great and growing so we have now been left in the position where we don’t have enough nurses.
“What we are finding is that nurses are finding it increasingly difficult to do the job.
“We have lots of work with nurses who have told us that when they don’t have enough staff that they feel they are not able to provide the level of care that they should be doing – they stay late after their shift, at the same time we are hearing that nurses are not getting their breaks and eventually people get burnt out.
“We do know that people are leaving nursing because of those pressures and more are leaving than joining the register.
“People are choosing to work more part time because of those pressures and we know that some people would choose to work for an agency instead of being directly employed because it gives them more flexibility – which of course isn’t good because then we don’t get the continuity.”
When asked about how nursing has changed over the 70-year history of the health service, Ms Davies added: “There has been enormous change – but the fundamentals of nursing have not changed.
“The motivation of nursing – that enabling people, empowering people, caring for people and compassion remains exactly the same.
“What motivated our nurses in 1948 is exactly the same as it is now.
“However, healthcare and health need has changed beyond all recognition.”
One nurse, Olive Belfield, who was in the first group of NHS recruits in 1948, said: “Before the health service we had to wash bandages – you would be appalled at the idea of washing bandages and using on other patients.
“In surgery, we had to mend the gloves, no one would think of doing that now.”
The 90-year-old from Manchester went on to be a district nurse, midwife, school nurse and health visitor.
She retired when she was 59 and now attends an NHS Retirement Fellowship in Bagley where she urges former NHS workers to come along to meetings.