‘Looming disaster’ alert over NHS staff shortage

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Its report highlights ten factors piling strain on health services. They include high hospital bed occupancy, rising staff sickness rates and growing demand for social care.

It warns that record waiting times in A&E departments are also “clearly a symptom of an unsustainable system”.

Other key problems identified included high Covid rates, the treatment backlog and too many patients receiving “corridor care” ‑ time spent on trolleys in hospital corridors before being admitted to a bed.

The RCN’s director for England, Patricia Marquis, said: “Speak to any nurse and they will tell you just how concerned they are for their patients as well as their colleagues.

“They have known for a long time just how the pressures have been growing and they can see the risk to patient care every single day in every part of health and care.”

The RCN said the nursing workforce has been severely depleted for years, with more than 38,000 vacancies in the NHS in England alone.

It urged the Government to tackle the crisis and for the Health and Care Bill, currently in Parliament, to introduce a duty for the Health Secretary to be accountable for better workforce planning.

Ms Marquis added: “This was coming long before the pandemic and is a direct consequence of a long-term failure to invest in the nursing workforce.

“Government must wake up to the reality and provide the investment that is needed to ensure patient care is not damaged any further.”

The report’s worrying findings were backed by the NHS Confederation.

Its director of policy, Layla McCay, said: “We have reached a tipping point with healthcare leaders warning that all parts of the NHS are coming under intolerable pressure and running extremely hot.

“NHS leaders are very concerned that staff shortages and the excessive demands they are facing are now putting patient safety and care at risk.”

She also warned: “The situation will get worse over the winter unless the Government takes action now.”

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