Staff shortages, recruitment freezes and redundancies are damaging the quality of patient care in hospitals, NHS workers have warned.
In a poll of more than 8,000 NHS staff by public sector union Unison, almost one-third (32%) said that austerity measures such as freezing recruitment, cutting posts and services, outsourcing and restructuring have led to a decrease in the quality of patient care.
The vast majority (80%) of respondents reported an increase in workload, with 77% warning that stress levels have increased over the last year.
One in two of the NHS workers surveyed said they had experienced staff shortages in the past 12 months, with 59% of respondents reporting a reduction in the number of staff employed.
Nearly half (46%) of respondents reported recruitment and retention difficulties, with just under half of workplaces responding to financial challenges with recruitment freezes.
Although the Government has vowed to protect the NHS budget, promising a real terms increase of 0.4%, Unison claims that NHS Trusts are being asked to find savings of £20 billion.
Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said: “What is truly distressing is that that the survey clearly shows how spending cuts are already threatening to damage the quality of patient care. The Government are turning back the clock and dragging the country back to the dark days of the eighties and early nineties when the NHS was starved of money.
“Government cuts threaten to undo and reverse the benefits of all the investment and hard work that has gone into turning the NHS round over the past 13 years. We have been able to train our own nurses instead of scouring third world countries to fill shortages. In a worrying reversal, half the people we surveyed are affected by staff shortages. This is particularly dangerous because the lack of staff was a key factor in the appalling problems with patient care at Mid Staffs Hospital.“
In response, the Department of Health said: “The coalition Government has made an historic commitment to increase NHS spending in real terms in every year of this Parliament. But the demand on the NHS is so great that in order to sustain and improve services, we need to make every penny count. The efficiency drive is about cutting waste and bureaucracy and all savings made will be put back into patient care. Better care can cost less and all over the NHS people are making changes to improve care and save money.”