SEVEN IN 10 PEOPLE BELIEVE there are too few nurses to deliver safe care, according to a new poll, as the Royal College of Nursing publishes professional standards on staffing for the nursing workforce in the UK.

The launch of the ‘Nursing Workforce Standards’ marks the first time the Royal College of Nursing has set out detailed expectations for employers, regulators, and national organisations to support patient safety and enable the UK’s nursing workforce to deliver safe and effective care.

A survey of 1,752 members of the public found 70 per cent agreed that there are too few nurses to provide safe care. When asked what concerned them most about these shortages, over a quarter (28 per cent) of respondents said they felt that themselves or their families may not get the care required when needed.

There are currently more than 50,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS alone across the UK, with many more unrecorded vacancies in other health care settings and in social care. This is expected to be exacerbated by the pandemic, as many nursing staff face burn out and exhaustion.

The new Standards set out Royal College expectations that all employers will make sure their workforce plans are designed by an executive nurse or equivalent, with the safety and care of patients as a priority over financial costs. Employers must ensure long-term contingency plans are in place in case of critical incidents or events, to cover absences, and make sure workplaces or teams are not left understaffed.

Employers must not continue to be over-reliant on bank or agency staff, and the Standards reject the practice of student nurses and non-clinical staff being included in staffing numbers.

The RCN aims to bring the entire nursing community, regardless of where they work in the UK, under one set of Standards to make all staff and patients safer. The College will support members to escalate concerns when any of the Standards are not being met in their workplace.

The RCN is clear that nurses are best placed to assess the complexity of patient health and care needs and is adamant that nurses must be the ones who determine what staffing levels are safe.

Royal College of Nursing Acting Chief Executive and General Secretary, Pat Cullen, said: “The survey shows that patients experience nursing staff being rushed off their feet and want to know what is being done about it. At no time has this been more evident than during the pandemic.

“The shortage of nursing staff across all specialisms in the profession, in the NHS and independent sector, compromises patient safety. We are acting to address this by setting out these Standards that must underpin workforce planning. These standards must be consistently applied across the UK.

“Nursing is the largest safety critical profession in healthcare and it’s vital that we have the right staff, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time.”

* The Workforce Standards are available here.

* Source: Royal College of Nursing