Nurses have revealed the grim realities of working in a health service which is, for the first time in recent history, seeing more nurses leaving the profession than joining.
Patients being forced to wet themselves because no one was available to take them to the toilet and being left in pain because no one was available to second-check controlled painkillers are among the stories HuffPost UK has been told by practising nurses.
It was revealed on Monday that the number of nurses and midwives leaving the profession has soared by 51% in just four years.
Low pay and poor working conditions were among the reasons cited by those under the age of retirement, the Press Association reported.
New figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) show that for the first time in recent history more midwives and nurses are leaving the register than are joining, with homegrown UK nurses leaving in the largest numbers.
Between 2016 and 2017, 20% more people left the register than joined it, and among those first registered in the UK, the figure was 45%.
HuffPost UK spoke to four nurses about their experiences and why the number of those leaving the profession has risen so drastically (names have been changed to protect their identity).
“I’ve had to leave patients on a toilet up to a hour as I had no one to help me get them back off the toilet.
“It has taken me over 30 minutes to give someone pain relief as I had no one to second-check the medicine they needed as it was a controlled drug.
“I have come home and cried many times as I feel I have given poor care to some people as I’ve been too busy to spend the time that they needed. I feel that due to rushing and trying to do several things at once I am leaving myself vulnerable to making serious and potential life threatening errors to my patients but if I don’t work at that rushed pace the stuff that I wouldn’t get done would also lead to serious errors through neglect so cant win either way.
No wonder pressure sores are on the rise when people are left in soiled pads for hours and there is a lack of nutrition as there’s no time to feed them a proper meal.
“On one shift recently, I was working on a emergency assessment ward where i had seven patients to look after with one healthcare assistant helping me. One patient kept having seizures and would stop breathing during the seizure. Another confused patient kept getting out of bed and was high risk of falling. I then had two more patients arrive from A&E at same time both scoring very high on MEWS [Modified Early Warning Score, for determining the seriousness of a patient’s illness] so could have gone into cardiac arrest very quickly if no interventions given. But there was no doctor available to see these patients as they were busy.
“I felt like with those four patients, which one I chose to go to first had a better chance and the other three were at risk of potential life threatening injuries. At same time bed management wanted me to discharge patients as they needed the bed. I asked the ward manger for help as I was struggling to cope with those four but the reply was ‘everyone is busy, you just have to get on with it’.
“The remaining two patients I had no interaction with for the whole of my shift other than drug round time. One was in a side room, I couldn’t see him from the bay so I didn’t know if he was deteriorating or not and on a emergency ward they often deteriorated with no warning so for all I knew he could have been dead and I wouldn’t have known as I had no time to even walk past his room or pop my head though the door to see if he was okay. That shift I left four hours late.
“Other examples of poor care include not having time to wash patients so some people don’t get washed until the afternoon, sitting in wet pads all the time; no time to feed patients or ensure they have a drink if they cant do this on their own; drug round late all the time; and people wetting themselves as we couldn’t get them to toilet in time.
I wouldn't want to be treated like that and I hate that this is the kind of treatment I'm providing purely because there is not enough staff.
“I wouldn’t want to be treated like that and I hate that this is the kind of treatment I’m providing purely because there is not enough staff.
“No wonder pressure sores are on the rise when people are left in soiled pads for hours and there is a lack of nutrition as there’s no time to feed them a proper meal.
“There is too much pressure on nurses while on shift and not enough staff to deal with demands and needs of patients. There is no time for breaks or food during shift leading to staff exhaustion poor health and stress often finish work late as only get time to do the paperwork when the next shift take over patient care.
“There is too much pressure outside of work to keep up to date with knowledge and training as we don’t have time to do this during work hours leading to nurses doing mandatory training in their own time.”
“I feel that the government need to put more money into the NHS so that more staff can be employed making the nurse to patient ratio better. If the pay cap was stopped nurses would feel valued which in turn would improve their morale.”
“The pressures on nurses both in the workplace and academically have gradually increased while remuneration remains inadequate.
“Nurses and other public sector workers are not valued or respected by politicians and this was demonstrated by the reaction to the recent vote in parliament regarding pay (cheering).
“We have to pay a yearly fee for the privilege to nurse, what other job that is so badly paid has this requirement? We are overcharged for union membership (I had to cancel mine as can’t afford it) and are vulnerable to accusations from public and employers on a daily basis.”
I recently took a career break due to depression and worked as a receptionist in a gym for four months. It was amazing.
“I recently took a career break due to depression and worked as a receptionist in a gym for four months. It was amazing, the pay was less but there were no pressures and I actually enjoyed going to work. I am now back nursing but in a less pressured environment.
“My skills and training are wasted in my new role and I feel unchallenged and unmotivated, however the usual pressures of long shifts and high demand remain.
“I will not be revalidating in 2019 and feel sad that my passion for nursing has gone. The NHS and healthcare as a whole is unsustainable and in crisis. It’s a shameful end to a wonderful concept.”
“There are so many issues around nurse recruitment, sustainability, retention, health, mental health, burnout and so on.
“I’ve been nursing since 1981 and I am a Nurse Practitioner in Primary care . Primary care nurses are under huge pressures with increasing workload, more complex conditions and being used to fill the gaps due to the shortage of GPS .
“I have seen competent and experienced nurses burn out and suffer with stress and depression . I love my ‘work’ as in my patients but the administration, lack of support is at crisis point. It is heartbreaking to watch it happen.
“The political parties all blame each other and have plans that quite frankly are fairy stories. There are no GPs, fewer and fewer nurses.
I love my 'work' as in my patients but the administration and lack of support is at crisis point. It is heartbreaking to watch it happen.
“Add to that the ageing population, lack of services in secondary care and as nurses we are seeing more and more complex things. Add to that overuse by patients, inability to self manage minor illnesses and unrealistic expectations too.
“Professional indemnity costs are soaring, pay is not rising and morale is at rock bottom. I have been fortunate to have the golden years of the NHS but fear for my children and grandchildren. Sadly I fear it is beyond saving now, despite the will of many to keep it going, mainly on good will.”
“More are leaving because of a higher percentage of the population being older and retiring; it skews figures somewhat. Not to say there isn’t younger nurses leaving, but those that are starting are quickly becoming disillusioned with the system so leaving before they’ve made an impact. Either that or the current courses available are fast tracking people into management so the new blood is not filtering it’s way into the working population.”
“The government needs to make nursing a respected profession again, instead of moaning we get paid enough and telling us ‘there’s no magic money tree’ make it an attractive place to be.
“Stop telling the world we have a deficit, the NHS is not a business - it puts people off wanting to join something that they feel is failing!
“Stop with the academic courses, it’s alienating a lot of very talented people who cannot do or afford a degree!
“Also there needs to be a way for the media and the government to stop scapegoating us and telling the world that we are the problem, we are uncaring and too posh to do our jobs. We are not - we are just under so much stress and pressure from way above that is misconstrued in the media.”
Speaking about the rising number of nurses leaving the profession, Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Patients are paying the price for the Government’s failure to plan for the future and it looks set to get worse.
“With more people leaving than joining, the NHS will be further than ever from filling the 40,000 vacant nurse jobs in England alone.
“The average nurse is £3,000 worse off in real-terms compared to 2010.
“The 1% cap means nursing staff can no longer afford to stay in the profession and scrapping student funding means people can no longer afford to join it.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We are making sure we have the nurses we need to continue delivering world-class patient care - that’s why there are almost 13,100 more on our wards since May 2010 and 52,000 in training.
“We also know we need to retain our excellent nurses and earlier this week we launched a national programme to ensure nurses have the support they need to continue their vital work.”