Nurses have been on the frontline in treating those with Covid-19, but they are unstaffed, overworked, and under-represented, according to The King’s Fund.  

Already understaffed before the pandemic, The King’s Fund, an independent health-focused think tank, reported that there are currently over 50,000 nurse vacancies in the UK and that the NHS was far from achieving its Long Term Plan of 5% shortfall by 2028. This issue having particular pertinence, as one of the key pledges of the Conservative Party, during last December’s general election, was the filling of that shortfall by both recruitment and retention.  

Researchers at The King’s Fund said that nurses are experiencing significant burnout, with high levels of stress, absenteeism, and turnover- with a quarter, when responding to a 2019 employment survey conducted by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), replying that they intend to quit. Collaborating with those stats, a 2019 English NHS Staff Survey also found that 44% indicated that they have been unwell due to workplace stress, and more than half had attended work despite feeling unwell in the previous three months.

Not unsurprisingly a survey by Nursing Times uncovered that during the first wave of Covid-19- feelings of anxiety had actually increased, with 33% rating their mental health as ‘very bad’, and 90% as ‘a lot’ or ‘a little’ anxious.  

Although feelings of pressure be helped as Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, announced this week that “we are well on our way to delivering 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament”, after figures published by the NHS showed an increase of 14,000 nurses, as well as intake of 5,000 more student nurses, when compared to last year.

Recommendations for a better workplace for nurses

Key recommendations of The King’s Fund, the courage of compassion, report were the empowerment of staff in decision making, the improvement of working conditions, the facilitation of teamworking, addressing excessive workloads, a review of 12-hour shifts, and a focus on further education and development for staff.

Responding to that report Susan Masters, Director of Nursing Policy and Public Affairs at the RCN said “at present, really ambitious and well-qualified young people are really struggling with gruelling shifts, staff shortages and poor pay. They feel they have no choice but to leave a career they should love – at a huge cost to patient care. Politicians and officials need to grasp the nettle before we lose even more”.

Adding that "while we understand that some of our members prefer 12-hour shifts, such as those with caring responsibilities or long commutes, we also recognise the challenges these shifts can bring. We would welcome a full review of them, and their impact on nurses and patient care”.

Another report that was published last week by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee also urged the Government to plan long-term, measure the close in the shortfall of nurses by speciality demand rather just by intake, support nurse’s wellbeing especially during the pandemic, and to publish the full NHS People Plan.