Patient care at risk as nurse vacancies soar

The Royal College of Nursing has outlined the evidence behind its calls for specific legal responsibilities for workforce planning and supply across the health and care system.

Standing Up for Patient and Public Safety, published by get college, arrives hot on the heels of recent NHS figures which show that there are now a record 43,617 vacant nursing posts in the NHS in England.

Nursing leaders are clear that to address the number of vacancies and tackle the workforce crisis, there must be clarity on workforce roles and responsibilities and that these must be set out clearly in law.  The report demonstrates that alongside this there also needs to be a sustained investment in the future nursing workforce, with at least £1 billion a year invested in nurse higher education.

Recent RCN polling showed that 80 per cent of the public agreed that the government should have a legal responsibility for ensuring there are enough nursing staff.

The Standing Up for Patient and Public Safety report highlighted that the lack of nursing staff is compromising patient care, with analysis showing that where there are less than 50 per cent of registered nurses than planned on shift, staff are twice as likely to report that care has been compromised than if working on a fully staffed shift.

Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN chief executive, said: “Nurses are working harder than ever to deliver safe patient care but are being held back by a system that is legally lacking teeth. Despite the public, patients and nurses all agreeing that clarity is needed on responsibilities for delivering enough nurses, we have yet to see any government pledge on this. As a result, we are staring down the barrel at a record 43,000 empty nursing posts.

“We know how dangerous it can be when there aren’t enough nurses to provide care, but at present, almost all accountability rests with the frontline nurse working on the understaffed ward, rather than those responsible for the system they work in. We believe the time has come for change and that patient care must be future-proofed by law, so that from the government down, decision makers are held to account.”

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