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Staff safety at risk unless shortages are addressed, says the RCN on World Patient Safety Day

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The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is calling for urgent action to address the shortage of nursing staff across the whole of the health and care system as a matter of priority. This includes giving nursing staff a meaningful pay rise.

On World Patient Safety Day, which this year has the message ‘Safe health workers, Safe patients’, the RCN is calling on UK governments to urgently address the shortage of nursing staff that is putting both staff and patients at risk.

The pandemic has starkly highlighted and increased the pressures facing nursing staff, whether they be in hospitals, care homes, in the community, or across the wider health and care sector. Nursing is a safety critical industry and while staff have been redeployed or stepped forward from studies or retirement, the situation is untenable with the profession facing severe staff shortages – with an estimated 50,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS in the UK alone.

The toll on nursing staff wellbeing is now very clear. Fears over health and safety, stress levels and patient complexity have all increased since the start of the pandemic, while staffing levels and the ability to take breaks have worsened.

A recent RCN survey found just over three quarters of respondents (76%) reported an increase in their own stress levels. Just over half (52%) strongly agreed, and an additional 39% agreed, with the statement that they were concerned about the well-being of those in the nursing profession generally.

With an increase in those saying they were thinking about leaving nursing, unless action is taken the wellbeing of nursing staff will not improve and the number of vacancies will increase. The survey showed that 35% are thinking of leaving the profession this year, with more than half citing pay as a factor.

To help grow the nursing workforce, the RCN is calling on governments to properly invest in the training of new nurses. In all countries of the UK, nursing students must have fees abolished and receive a universal living maintenance grant that reflect actual student need.

The RCN is also calling for an immediate pay rise for nursing staff in the NHS across the UK that recognises their skills, responsibilities and experience.

With the World Health Organization extending the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife into 2021 the RCN will use this international focus and continue to campaign on these vital issues ensuring nursing is top of the health and care agenda.

Susan Masters, RCN Director of Nursing, Policy and Public Affairs, said:

“Nursing staff, whatever setting they work in, dedicate themselves to those in their care and have been working under the pressure from unfilled staff vacancies for far too long.

“With experienced nursing staff saying they are considering leaving the profession, it is clear that action needs to be taken now to protect the health and wellbeing of nursing staff as well as to build a workforce fit for the future.

“Unless all the governments in the UK act now there is very real risk the health and wellbeing of those who dedicate themselves to the care of others could become terribly damaged.”

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