THE Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is today (Thursday 30 December) raising the alarm over morale, sickness absence and the prospect of rising vacancies in the profession in the early months of 2022.
The RCN’s 2021 biennial Employment Survey, carried out before the Omicron wave hit the UK, found many nursing staff are already routinely working unpaid overtime, delaying or not taking annual leave and were feeling exhausted.
With Omicron cases hitting record levels, the number of staff off for Covid-19 reasons is adding to what were already unsustainable pressures on health and care services.
The respondents to the RCN survey – more than 9,000 – expressed a growing sense of disillusionment after 18 months’ fighting the pandemic, with many citing feeling undervalued as a reason for wanting to quit their jobs.
Headline findings from the October survey include:
- 57% state that they are either thinking about leaving their job or actively planning to leave. The reasons for that included feeling undervalued (70%); feeling exhausted (60%); and that they can’t give patients the level of care they would like to (47%).
- Around three-quarters of the respondents reported having worked when unwell on at least one occasion over the previous 12 months (77.4%) or regularly working beyond their contracted hours at least once a week (74.1%); and just over half of these members (53%) reported these additional hours were unpaid.
- 18% said they hadn’t asked for their full annual leave entitlement; and 15% that they were asked to delay their holiday time.
RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: ‘As the pandemic moves into a third calendar year and now we face another Covid wave, our members talk vividly about the toll of the pandemic and years of understaffing.
‘Nursing undoubtedly has the potential to be a hugely rich and satisfying career, but with tens of thousands of nursing jobs unfilled the situation is unsustainable.
‘All nursing staff need funded and supported time out – not limited to annual leave – for all staff, regardless of which setting they work.
‘Likewise, where staff have taken time off due to illness, rest and recuperation must be central to decision-making about their return to work.
‘Proper mental and psychological support services need to be made available.’
A clinical nurse specialist in urgent care in Wales who responded to the survey said there ls a ‘constant threat’ of being redeployed at any time to fill rota gaps, adding: ‘Since Covid-19 patients and families are waiting so long to access care, so many distressed people, families are calling daily, the calls are heart-breaking.
‘The aggression is increasing, and I am not sure how much more I can take.’
Responding to the findings, RCN representative and London nurse Jodie Elliott, said: ‘Every day we come in to do a good job; when you can’t do that because you don’t have the staff it breaks my heart.’