UNISON NHS survey reveals front-line pressures

UNISON, the UK¹s largest public service union, is warning that staff shortages, recruitment freezes and redundancies are set to ‘turn back the clock’ on patient care in the UK. A worrying report from the union shows a front-line under severe pressure, with more patients treated by fewer staff.

UNISON is warning that the Government¹s squeeze on funding, risks dragging health services back to the 80¹s and 90¹s. An era when the NHS was starved of funds, hospital roofs leaked, training for nurses and other professionals was cut and waiting lists, for those who couldn¹t afford to pay, dragged into years.

The survey – a cross section of more than 8,000 NHS staff – reveals that hospitals are responding to financial difficulties by freezing recruitment, cutting posts and services, outsourcing and restructuring. Almost a third of staff say this has led to a decrease in the quality of patient care, 80% reported an increase in workload, while half were struggling with staff shortages.

Karen Jennings, UNISON Head of Health, 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 80¹s and early 90¹s when the NHS was starved of money. Back then, patients who could afford it, paid up to avoid being at the end of a very long waiting list or being treated in poorly maintained hospitals.

“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.

“Our survey also reveals that 80% of staff have seen their workload increase and that means fewer staff treating more patients. This ties in with reports that NHS organisations are implementing recruitment freezes and making redundancies across the UK.

“Our survey explodes the myth that the NHS is protected from spending cuts. How can this be true when Trusts are being asked to make savings to the tune of £20bn? At the same time, we know that the NHS faces an unquantifiable increase in demand as a result of cuts to local authority and other public sector services.

“The cost of treatments are going up, drugs are getting more expensive, we have an aging population who need more, not less care and the cost of the latest round of top-down reforms will run into billions. “It is time for the Government to think again about the long term damage that their plans are inflicting on the NHS.”

Key results from the UNISON survey:

· 54% of staff reported they were coping with an increase in the number of patients; · 1 in 2 staff have experienced staff shortages; · 59% of respondents report a reduction in the number of staff employed; · 32% perceived a decline in the quality of care in their organisation; · There has been no let up in the relentless pressure placed on NHS staff, with 80% reporting increased workload and 77% increased stress over the last year;

Factors contributing the most to increased workload include vacancy freezes and redundancies; · 46% of staff reported recruitment and retention difficulties; · Just under half of workplaces / departments responded to expected financial challenges with recruitment freezes.

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