Third of nurses plan to quit NHS in ‘emerging crisis’

Long shifts and poor treatment during the pandemic are taking their toll on nursing staff

A third of nurses are considering leaving the NHS in the next year, according to research highlighted by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The committee’s report quotes a survey from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) suggesting that 36% of respondents were considering leaving in the next year, with two-thirds attributing this to low pay and almost half claiming it was due to their treatment during the pandemic.

The exodus has sparked fears of an “emerging crisis” in nursing, the PAC said.

The PAC concluded that it was unlikely the government would meet its targets of recruiting 50,000 more nurses by 2025. NHS trusts already face significant shortages of nurses, with more than 40,000 vacancies open in the NHS in England alone.

Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the PAC, said: “I fear with the strain of a huge shortage of nurses and the worrying reports of low morale and huge numbers considering leaving in the next year, we are facing an emerging crisis in nursing.”

When asked how many nurses were expected to come through the three supply routes identified by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) – registered nurses, overseas recruitment and better retention – the PAC said the department could not say.

Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said it was concerned by the findings of the report. “It makes abundantly clear that the NHS and social care both still need many more nurses going forward, although we welcome the Department of Health and Social Care’s recent commitment to rectifying this,” he said.

“This includes the commitment made in August of £172 million to support employers with nurse degree apprenticeships, as well as funding for 420 nursing associates and assistant practitioners to ‘top up’ to become nurses. We also welcomed [chief nursing officer] Ruth May’s letter to regional chief nurses and nursing directors, which set out a commitment of £28 million for international recruitment of nurses.

“We know, of course, that employers are also working hard to address this issue through retention and recruitment, but they will want greater clarity from national NHS leaders, who need to better quantify how many nurses they expect to join the profession from each of the routes available.”

The PAC’s conclusions have emerged as a similar report by the King’s Fund think tank found that an increasing number of nurses have quit their roles within three years of joining. One tenth left within their first year in role, it found.

A host of factors including stress, long shifts and lack of access to food and drink at work – as well as the ever more complex demands of caring for patients – is forcing NHS nurses and midwives to leave at “alarmingly high levels”, according to its review of working conditions.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has “laid bare and exacerbated long-standing problems” faced by nurses and midwives, the King’s Fund said, and would be felt for a long time to come.

There is also a “large and growing gap between capacity and demand” in district nursing services, according to the think tank. Between 2010 and 2019, there has been a 35% reduction in health visitors, and a 38% reduction in nurses who support learning disabilities. Staff in district nursing roles say they are “broken”, “exhausted” and “on their needs”, according to its research.

The King’s Fund’s report, commissioned by the RCN foundation, called for new minimum standards to improve working conditions and a review of 12-hour shifts.

A list of eight key recommendations also include providing nursing staff with more authority, empowerment and influence, improving justice and fairness, better support for multi-disciplinary team working, more compassionate leadership and better learning frameworks for career development.

Responding to the PAC’s findings, the DHSC said: “We are incredibly grateful for the dedication nurses have shown throughout the pandemic. We are working to attract and retain more brilliant nursing staff by offering practical support for wellbeing, as well as a new maintenance package of £5,000 for all eligible new and continuing students.

“We are on our way to delivering 50,000 more nurses by the end of this parliament, with already over 13,800 more working in the NHS and a 22% rise in nursing university acceptances this year.”

Hillier added: “We fully recognise that the NHS is reeling under the strain of Covid-19, with staff unsure how they will cope with the second wave that it seems clear already upon us. But it must not take its eye off the ball and allow a slide back into short-term, crisis mode.

“It must press on with coherent plans to get the nursing workforce back to capacity, under the kind of working conditions that can encourage hard-won, hard-working nurses to stay in our NHS and care homes.”

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5 Responses to Third of nurses plan to quit NHS in ‘emerging crisis’

  1. Avatar
    Andy 17 Dec 2020 at 4:15 pm #

    Yep, handed my notice in last week, and wont be looking back. Sad times. I’ve dedicated a decade of my life to the NHS, but my job has become impossible and too stressful with little reward

    • Avatar
      Sarah Bradford 6 Jan 2021 at 1:17 pm #

      Completely agree with you. We feel unappreciated. Patients demand much more from nurses when we don’t have the funds and resources to meet all their wants and needs. We are overworked with nothing as little as a “thank you”. I’ve had patients say “my taxes pay for your wages so get X Y and Z done”. It’s become an absolutely horrible job like modern day slavery. The pay doesn’t even compensate for the job and all that is required of you. You don’t spend time with family because of the long work hours. You stay longer than your work time and don’t get paid the difference or overtime. You call in sick and get threatened you won’t be paid for being sick so you come in just to make your body feel worse. Seniors put pressure on band 5s. The nurse apprenticeship isn’t so helpful as they can’t do IV medications and still need supervision from band 5s so They can’t quite work autonomously. It’s an unending cycle.

  2. Avatar
    Emma 6 Jan 2021 at 10:00 pm #

    Also feeling like I want to walk away. I’ve been nursing for 8 years. I leave every shift feeling like I’ve not done a good enough job or provided the best care I can. I don’t sleep properly. I’m constantly worried about making mistakes or missing something because of the pressures we’re under. Looking at alternative jobs outside of nursing. I’m done.

  3. Avatar
    Jim w 8 Jan 2021 at 4:53 am #

    I migrated from Australia 2 years ago. A&E specialist for 20 years. I lasted 2 months in NHS. Better pay working picking fruit.! Staff to patient ratio dangerous. Just ticking boxes in documentation.
    Good luck! But the UK love the NHS…

  4. Avatar
    Daisy 22 Jan 2021 at 2:53 pm #

    Had a poor experience myself too. Just an inhospitable, toxic, cult-like working environment. Abuse from patients and relatives with not much support from the team despite ‘zero tolerance to abuse’ policy (not really enforced). Unsafe ratios. Unnecessary red tape. Unrealistic targets, which will put staff in a “never good enough” position – impact on morale. Lack of independence to organize your own work (not much leeway to prioritize or delegate tasks – you are just required to do everything and tick every box timely! Inability to say no to picking up the phone or postergate any non urgent issue no matter how busy). Lack of teamwork, almost every responsibility put on the shoulders of band 5 so some other members of the team will knowingly leave pending tasks here and there. Lots of desk jobs designated just to monitor & put pressure on the stretched frontline staff. Rivalry and pettiness from fellow staff members, lack of constructive approach towards new staff. Management would blame overtime on the nurse’s supposed inability to organize despite this being a widespread problem that is knowingly due to understaffing. Job made unnecessarily tedious by adding more protocols, checklists, and locks to previously unlocked cupboards, as well as relocation of supplies outside of the ward. Lack of assigned time for mandatory training (you’ll have to do it on your own time outside the schedule). Standards on apprearance, uniform, performance etc unequally enforced, which sees some staff members repeatedly admonished over the slightest breach whilst others are overlooked at the same time. Some of the staff inexplicably always busy & on their toes while others have time to take all their breaks or carry out their duties with enough time margin. Poor work/life balance. Lack of available parking places -nevermind free.

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