Falling staffing levels are greatest barrier to patient care, UNISON finds


A survey of more than 3,000 nurses by UNISON reveals an NHS plunged into peril by a rise in the number of patients, a fall in the number of staff and the damaging impact of government cuts.

Shockingly, less than 10% of nurses said they could deliver safe, dignified, compassionate care all of the time.

Far from Tory claims that the NHS is safe in their hands, only 8% of nurses say patient care has improved in the last 12 months. 35% say standards have fallen.

The major barriers to delivering top quality patient care are staffing levels, unreasonable workloads, stress and service cuts, say nurses.

Nearly three quarters say that government cuts are affecting their work.

More than 5,000 nurses have disappeared from the NHS in the last year, and almost two-thirds report staff numbers continuing to fall while patient numbers rise. The majority of nurses report that staff numbers have fallen since an earlier UNISON survey into patient ratios, carried out on March 6th this year. This is especially worrying given that on that day, 73% reported that they didn’t feel like they could not deliver safe, dignified compassionate care.

Not surprisingly given two years of frozen pay, a rise in pensions contributions and professional fees as well as regular criticism from the Tory-led coalition,  only 4% of nurses feel respected by the government.  Overwhelmingly, nurses feel respected by patients and their families.

UNISON head of health Christina McAnea said: “The Prime Minister defended his record on the NHS in his party conference speech. He should be ashamed. The NHS is being plunged into peril by government cuts and falling staff numbers coupled with an increasing demand for health services.

“Nurses know the NHS and they know when things are going wrong. They know that patients deserve to have top quality care all of the time – not some of the time, but this is all they feel able to deliver in this environment.

“Workloads are becoming unmanageable and rising stress levels for nurses are bad news for patients. Nurses do not feel respected by the government – this has to change as a matter of urgency.

“The government needs to start listening to nurses and other health workers who are ringing alarm bells about the state of our NHS before it is too late.”

Key findings

When asked what the greatest barriers to providing the highest quality of patient care, 85% identify staffing levels, 72% say unreasonable workloads, and 69% say service cuts are to blame. Worryingly, 63% say stress levels are barriers to delivering top quality patient care.

35% say that the quality of patient care has declined in the last year. 47% say it has remained the same. Only 8% say that patient care has improved in the last 12 months.

64% say that the number of patients has increased in the last year, whilst 60% say the number of staff has fallen.

71% say government cuts are affecting their work.

46% work longer than their contracted hours either several times a week, every day or almost every day.

82% of nurses feel respected by their patients, but only 4% feel respected by the government.

When asked what they like best about their jobs, 81% of nurses say providing face-to-face care to patients. 77% say they enjoy feeling like they make a difference. Only 7% said they liked the job because of the salary.

Only 26% would now recommend nursing as a profession.

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