NHS staff shortages mean patients are dying alone on wards, say nurses

Years of poor planning and cost-cutting mean patients are dying alone in NHS hospitals because there are too few staff to care for them, according to a new report.

In a survey of more than 30,000 nurses in England, more than a third said essential patient care is left undone due to a lack of time - writes  itv.com.

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.

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".

A quarter of nurses said they care for 14 patients or more at a time.

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

It reveals:

  • Some 55% of nurses said there was a shortfall in planned staffing of one or more registered nurses on their last shift
  • One in five nurses on a shift are temporary agency staff
  • 36% of all nurses said essential patient care is left undone due to a lack of time
  • One in 10 nurses described the care on their last shift as poor, rising to 14% of those working in A&E
  • When nurses related concerns about the lack of staff, 44% said no action was taken by bosses
  • Seven out of 10 nurses (71%) said their last daytime shift exceeded official staffing guidelines, which say more than eight patients to one nurse should act as a "red flag"
  • Three-quarters of nurses worked an extra hour on average on top of their shift without pay

What did the nurses say?

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."

A third added: "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."

What about the Royal College of Nursing?

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.

"The findings in this report are a direct result of years of poor planning and cost-cutting - it was entirely predictable.

"We urgently need assurances from every health and care provider that services are safe for patients, and new laws on staffing should follow swiftly."

What has the Government said?

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "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."

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