A PERFECT STORM of pressures risks engulfing health and social care services in England in the coming months, a comprehensive analysis by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) shows.

In a new report, Ten unsustainable pressures on the health and care system in England, the RCN has identified 10 key indicators which find the stress those services are under is already enormous, refuting recent ministerial claims they are sustainable.

Those indicators include record emergency waiting times, only one of a number of factors which the report brands “clearly a symptom of an unsustainable system”.

Those waits include so-called ‘corridor care’ – the time patients spend on trolleys in hospital corridors before being admitting to a hospital bed – which the report says is “fundamentally unsafe and must not be normalised”.

The report identified as another key factor the length of time the nursing workforce has been severely depleted, with one in ten registered nurse posts vacant since 2017. Now there are over 38,000 vacancies in the NHS in England alone.

Other key indicators include:

  • Patients waiting more than 12 hours for admission to a hospital bed (‘trolley waits’) is at a record high – a nearly nine-fold increase since October 2019
  • Dozens of hospitals are running at dangerously high levels of bed occupancy, with some at levels above 95 per cent.
  • Registered nurse sickness levels rocketing with 88,000 more days lost to sickness compared to pre-pandemic.
  • District nurse numbers falling by 44 per cent and school nurses by over 30 per cent since 2009.

The RCN has repeatedly called for the Government to tackle the nursing workforce crisis in England. It is calling for a duty for the health secretary to be accountable for providing health and care workforce, and that this is enshrined in the Health and Care Bill currently in Parliament.

The RCN 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.

“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.

“This starts by delivering a pay rise that recognises their skill and professionalism to prevent an exodus of experienced nurses and in the long term there must be a legal responsibility at ministerial level for delivering staffing for safe and effective health and care services.”

* 10 Unsustainable Pressures on the Health and Care System in England is available to download here.

* Source: Royal College of Nursing