Almost half of nurses in England plan to quit or are considering it, survey shows

The Royal College of Nursing say the findings must “concentrate the minds” of politicians ahead of the upcoming general election, ITV News' Rebecca Barry reports

Almost half of nurses in England plan to quit or are considering it, exclusive data obtained by ITV News shows.

Excessive levels of pressure and pay are among the issues prompting the 45% of nurses surveyed by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to say they are considering quitting.

More than seven in 10 nurses said the pressure has become too much to stand while two thirds said their level of pay failed to meet their level of responsibility, skills and contribution.

The survey gathered opinions of more than 11,000 nursing staff across the UK's NHS, social care and independent settings, and the participants were self selecting.

The RCN carries out the survey every two years, and says the findings should "concentrate the minds" of politicians ahead of the upcoming general election.

Between 2013 and 2023 the number of nursing staff reporting they were under too much pressure at work increased from 59.3% to 71.1%.

The number of nurses saying they are too busy to provide the level of care they would like also increased from 56% to 65.9 over the same 10-year period.

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One nurse working in the NHS in the North West of England who responded to the survey said she had been a nurse for 16 years and "can’t remember a worse time in the NHS".

"Poor staffing, stress, burnout, and morale are apparent on a daily basis - camaraderie gets us through most days. I hope for a future where my children and the next generations have a safe NHS,” she added.

A health visitor working in general practice in Scotland said she was considering leaving nursing altogether "to find a job [she] can leave on time and not have to worry about work”. 

'Inappropriate' pay

The survey results also suggested pay was also a big concern.

Across every health and care setting in the UK, nursing staff said they felt demoralised by pay that fails to match their levels of training, education, skills and responsibilities.

In recent years the dissatisfaction with pay among nursing staff has intensified - only two in ten think their pay level or band is appropriate, halving from four in ten (44%) in 2015.

A community nurse in Northern Ireland said the responsibility of the job is not reflected in the pay.

"Experienced nurses are leaving the profession for jobs as sales assistants, where they are better paid,” they said.

Almost seven in 10 nurses surveyed said money worries were causing them anxiety and depression. One in four said they are regularly losing sleep, with youngest staff aged between 18-24 feeling most impacted.

Burnt out and lacking energy

The majority of people (64%) surveyed still considered nursing a rewarding career, but that figure is falling as nurses feel undervalued.

A district nurse in Wales said that despite having only been qualified for eight months, they were already feeling burnt out and "dread going to work" because of the workload.

Working under pressure is also having an impact on nurses' personal lives. More than eight in ten (85%) admitted to working while ill during 2023 and fewer than a third reported being happy with their work-life balance – the lowest score recorded since 2013. 

A senior nurse working in an acute trust in the South of England said: “Sometimes I arrive home depleted without energy to even look after myself and I wonder if this is normal.”

"Nursing has affected my home life and parenting," one senior nurse working in an NHS mental health setting said.

"There is no work-life balance and the pay does not reflect the self-sacrifice. However, after 35 years, I still love caring for my patients everyday.”

Demands for better conditions

The RCN is asking the government to invest in the nursing profession and substantially lift pay over the coming years to boost recruitment and retention across all health and care settings.

The last decade has seen nursing staff grapple with "devastating workforce shortages" as successive governments "fail to invest in the profession", Professor Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary and chief executive said.

“The picture for nursing may look bleak, but as a general election approaches, politicians have a chance to chart a better course. Our profession is fundamental to building a healthy society and economy, but it cannot do that with its hands tied behind its back.  

“For those wishing to form the next government, this report should concentrate minds. Patients and nursing staff should not have to keep suffering for politicians to pay attention and take action. The next decade must be better than the last.” 

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care responded to the report by saying: "We hugely value the work of NHS nurses and remain committed to supporting the career development and wellbeing of all NHS staff."

“The most recent NHS Staff Survey showed improvements in morale and staff experience, and the rate of nursing vacancies in NHS trusts is at its lowest since records began in 2017.

“In addition, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan - backed by over £2.4 billion government funding - will increase the number of nurses by up to 190,000 by 2036/37.”

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