The shortage of nursing staff in England is putting patient safety in danger, the Royal College of Nursing warned yesterday as it launched a new campaign to encourgage the public to speak out about the impact of England’s 40,000 nurse shortage.
The RCN’s campaign was launched on the World Health Organisation’s first annual World Patient Safety Day, which aims to ‘create awareness of patient safety and urge people to show their commitment to making healthcare safer’.
It calls for legislation to be brought forward in England to help address the nursing workforce crisis.
Earlier this year, nurses and support workers in Scotland secured new legislation on safe staffing levels after a nurse staffing law was introduced in Wales in 2016.
The 2013 Francis Report on failings of care at Stafford Hospital concluded that the main factor responsible was a significant shortage of nurses at the hospital.
Nurse numbers at NHS acute Trusts across England then increased as managers took steps to try to prevent similar scandals in the future.
But a new analysis by the RCN shows that for every one extra nurse NHS acute Trusts in England have managed to recruit in the five years since 2013/14, there were 157 extra admissions to hospital as emergencies or for planned treatment.
The number of patients admitted to hospitals has risen three times more than the number of nurses recruited.
Last year the number of extra admissions for every additional nurse taken on increased to 217.
The analysis shows that the extra 9,894 nurses recruited to NHS hospitals since 2013/14 is dwarfed by the additional 1,557,074 admissions over the same period.
Public polling carried out for the RCN to mark the campaign launch reveals that:
- 71 per cent of respondents in the UK think there are not enough nurses in the NHS to provide safe care to patients;
- The top priority among those polled for any additional funding for the NHS in England was recruiting more nurses (chosen as top priority by 37 per cent of respondents in England from a list of eight alternatives);
- 67 per cent of respondents in England wrongly think the government has a legal responsibility to ensure there are sufficient nursing staff.
The campaign advertisements feature the strapline: ‘Nurses are the people’s people. Now we need to fight for them.’
They urge readers and users to sign a new petition the RCN has created, which reads: ‘I’m calling on the government to invest in tomorrow’s nurses, end this crisis and make clear in law who is truly accountable for safe (and effective) patient care.’
The College is calling for the following actions:
- Introduce legislation to ensure accountability for safe nurse staffing at all levels of health and care services in England, from the Health Secretary downwards;
- Ensure that a statutory body has responsibility for future nurse workforce planning – no one body has this function at present.
The 40,000 nursing posts currently vacant in England represent only the number for which the NHS has funding – they take no account of the number of nurses health and care services in England will actually require in the future to meet the needs of an ageing population;
- Invest at least £1 billion in nurse higher education in order to reverse the reduction in the number of students both applying to and taking up places on nursing degree courses.
Since the removal of the nursing bursary in 2016, applications have fallen by 29%, and the number of students starting degrees by 8%.
Commenting on the campaign launch, Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary, said: ‘Today we’re issuing a stark warning that patient safety is being endangered by nursing shortages.
‘Staffing shortfalls are never simply numbers on a spreadsheet – they affect real patients in real communities.
‘We’re calling on the public in England to fight for nurses and sign our petition calling on the Westminster government to invest in the future workforce and make clear who is accountable in law for safe patient care.
‘Our polling shows almost two-thirds of people already fear there aren’t enough nurses to provide safe care – and they want recruiting more nurses to be the top priority for any extra funding for the NHS in England.
‘Nurses are the single most trusted professional group in the whole country, with 96% of the public placing them at the top of a list of occupations including doctors, teachers, the police and scientists. Nursing staff are asking for your support in calling time on this crisis.’
Meanwhile, cancer survival in the UK is improving but is still lagging behind other high-income countries, analysis suggests.
Five-year survival rates for rectal and colon cancer improved the most since 1995, and pancreatic cancer the least.
Advances in treatment and surgery are thought to be behind the UK’s progress.
But the UK still performed worse than Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand and Norway, the study in Lancet Oncology found.
Cancer Research UK said the UK could do better and called for more ‘investment in the NHS and the systems and innovations that support it.’
The research looked at data on nearly four million patients with seven types of cancer – oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas, lung and ovary – from seven high-income countries.
The cancer patients were all diagnosed between 1995 and 2014.
The study found that the estimated survival rates of people diagnosed with cancer increased in all seven countries over the period 1995-2014.
But some countries did better than others.
Australia was found to have higher survival rates than other countries, while the UK on the whole had lower survival rates.
In fact, despite improvements, the UK is the worst for key cancers including lung, colon, rectum, stomach and pancreas.
In the UK, rectal cancer survival went up from 48% to 62% over 20 years.
For colon cancer, there was good progress too – from 47% surviving for five years in 1995-99 to 59% in 2010-14.
In comparison, Ireland made similar improvements, and Denmark even greater ones.
Australia’s survival increased to 71% for both rectal and colon cancer.
Pancreatic cancer had the lowest five-year survival of all – ranging from 7.9% in the UK (lowest) to 14.6% in Australia (highest).
For lung cancer, Canada had the highest five-year survival (21.7%) while the UK had the lowest (14.7%).
All countries had similar improvements in survival from stomach cancer, while Norway saw the highest five-year survival for ovarian cancer (46%).
The improvements were better for the under-75s than the over-75s.
The researchers say steady improvements by all countries in the study are probably due to major healthcare reforms and advances in technology, which have led to earlier diagnosis, more effective treatments and better managing of patients.
Bowel (rectal and colon) had one of the largest increases in five-year survival.
John Butler, consultant surgeon at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London and Cancer Research UK’s clinical adviser, said this was due to better surgical techniques, greater use of radiotherapy and more older patients being treated.
He added that improvements in the UK were the result of a combination of many different factors.
‘Over the last 20 years we’ve seen improvements in cancer planning, development of national cancer strategies and the rollout of new diagnostic and treatment services.
‘For lung, ovarian, and oesophageal cancer in particular, survival has increased largely because the quality of surgery has radically improved, and more surgery is taking place than before.
‘More people are being looked after by specialist teams, rather than surgeons who aren’t experts in that area.’
But Butler stressed that investing in early diagnosis and cancer care is crucial in closing the survival gap on other countries.