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Work pressures facing nurses in Scotland ‘enormous’, finds RCN survey

60% of respondents agree they are under too much pressure at work

Caroline White

Friday, 29 November 2019

Nurses in Scotland are feeling under enormous pressure at work and are too busy to provide the level of care they would like to, show the findings* of the latest Royal College of Nursing (RCN) employment survey.

Nearly 2000 (1916) RCN members in Scotland responded to the online survey sent out to a sample of members in January 2019.

The survey asked questions about nurses’ experience across five different subject areas: working patterns and workload; pay and additional work; the nature of work, and respondents’ views about nursing; physical and verbal abuse and bullying; and education and training.

The survey, which is the latest in a long running series undertaken with RCN members, including registered nurses and health care support workers, was carried out in a year when vacancy levels for NHS nursing staff reached a record high, with over 4,000 posts unfilled. 

Key findings from the survey show that 60% of respondents agree they are under too much pressure at work, with the same proportion feeling too busy to provide the level of care they would like to.

More than half (52%) work beyond their contracted hours on every shift or several times every week.

More than two thirds (69%) of respondents said they had been subjected to verbal abuse by patients, service users, or relatives, while over a third (37%) said they had been bullied.

One Band 5 staff nurse who responded to the survey commented: “The most upsetting and stressful part of my job is being unable to give good patient care due to poor staffing levels … and unfortunately it has become ‘normal’ to work under this constant stress. Never have I felt pressure like this in my career and have never felt so undervalued.”

Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland director, said that messages of increased demand and workforce pressures must not be accepted as simply the status quo.

“Across both acute and community settings, there are simply too few nursing staff and working in such a depleted workforce is like having an arm and a leg tied behind your back,” she said.

“Nursing staff really need the long-anticipated Integrated Workforce Plan to match Scottish government’s stated aspirations for the health and care workforce, but it’s now more than 12 months overdue.”

The RCN also published UK-wide results** from the survey, which echo the findings of the Scottish survey and additionally show that barely a quarter of respondents think their pay is appropriate for the level of responsibility and stress they face at work.

The survey also highlighted that health care assistants are increasingly being asked to take on the duties of registered nurses.

RCN chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “Our 2019 Employment Survey should be required reading for all politicians who want to form the next government. The findings lay bare the serious consequences for both patients and nurses of the huge number of vacant nursing posts across the UK. Yet failure to increase nurse numbers isn’t inevitable, but a political choice.”

Theresa Fyffe added: “At its best, nursing gives people a sense of identity, pride, achievement and huge fulfilment – almost three quarters of respondents view nursing as a rewarding career. But it’s clear that nurses and health care support workers are feeling overworked in under-resourced environments.

“It’s time to make staff wellbeing a major priority and the first step is to safeguard staff psychological health through the guidance and implementation for the safe staffing act.”

*Employment Survey 2019: Scotland. Royal College of Nursing Scotland, 28 November 2019.
**RCN Employment Survey 2019. Royal College of Nursing, 28 November 2019.


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