Nurse staffing shortages: 'I’ve seen colleagues with low morale but this time they are broken'

Nurses described how they and their colleagues were “exhausted”, “on their knees” and “broken” as they work tirelessly to care for Covid-19 patients.

A survey found more than eight in 10 nurses have feared for patient safety due to staffing shortages, a new poll suggests.

Of 1,200 British nurses who took part, 86% said they had worked shifts in recent months where they felt patient safety had been at risk due to staff shortages.

The survey, conducted by the Nursing Times during the last two weeks of January, found that 94% worked shifts that were short-staffed due to colleagues being off sick or self-isolating.

An intensive care nurse treats a patient who is on a ventilator. Credit: Emily Gilhespy

And a third (35%) had taken time off work themselves either because of Covid-19 or needing to self-isolate since October.

Almost a quarter had been off due to stress, fatigue or another mental health concern, Nursing Times said.

A community nurse told the publication: “I have been a nurse for almost 40 years – I’ve seen colleagues with low morale but this time they are broken.”

Another hospital nurse said: “We are on our knees on every shift. Our trauma is continuing, we have no time to recover.”

Hospitals and healthcare staff are under pressure to treat Covid patients and continue with other non-coronavirus care too. Credit: PA Images

A critical care nurse added: “You have to be on the ball at the top of your game constantly. It’s exhausting; we are running a continuous sprint, but the Covid-19 pandemic is an endless marathon.”

Nurses who completed the survey recognised that there were support systems available for NHS staff but a number said they did not have time to access it.

One said: “The problem is staff need time away to access the support and, due to lack of staff, sickness and competent staff, this is virtually impossible.”

Commenting on the survey, Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The current pressure on health and care services is taking a toll on the well-being of nursing staff.

Ruth Corscadden and Daniel McCollam with a patient outside Causeway Hospital Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

“The staff I speak to every day tell me that they have no fuel left in the tank and their resilience is being seriously tested.

“It is vital the support is funded and available where and when it is needed and that managers encourage and support staff to seek help.

“After years of underinvestment, we started this pandemic with 50,000 too few nurses across the UK.

“It is impacting patient care and staff well-being now more than ever. They deserve proper respect and reward for their work, including a significant pay rise, to turn the tide.”

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said: “It is absolutely right that hard-working staff who have delivered care to thousands of patients during this pandemic are also well supported and cared for.

“There is help and advice available for NHS nurses, midwives and all staff working on the frontline, as well as for those working behind the scenes, including a confidential mental health and wellbeing advice line and 24/7 text support.”