The UK’s largest professional nursing union says a shortage of nurses is risking the safety of patients, after an NHS trust is downgraded by the Care Quality Commission as “requiring improvement”.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has issued a warning about the shortage of nurses in the NHS following the downgrading of a mental health trust.
Last week the rating of the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys (TEVW) NHS Foundation Trust was downgraded to “requiring improvement” by the Care Quality Commission.
A team of CQC inspectors visited the trust from 24 September to 6 November 2019 and found a number of improvements were needed, after it was rated as “good” in the last inspection in 2018.
CQC’s Deputy Chief Inspector of Hospitals and lead for mental health, Kevin Cleary, said:
“During our most recent inspection of Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust we found some services had deteriorated while others had failed to make sufficient improvements.
“Risks to people’s safety were not always well managed and we found issues that could compromise people’s privacy and dignity. We found medicines were not always effectively managed, some parts of the trust’s buildings were not fit for purpose and we remained concerned that disciplinary and grievance processes were not being followed.
“In specialist community mental health services for children and young people we found staffing was poor and the workload too high, resulting in long delays. When we reviewed care records in mental health crisis services and health-based places of safety, the majority lacked individualised detail.”
Although the commission did say that “…staff treated patients with compassion and kindness” and that the inspectors “…were encouraged to find a number of areas of outstanding practice at the trust and a leadership team that was visible and approachable, and that provided development opportunities to staff”, the results of the inspection have been met with concern by the RCN.
Glenn Turp, Northern regional director of the RCN said:
“The CQC has rightly highlighted some very serious concerns and failings which call into question whether this trust can provide safe patient care.
“After the very tragic and sad deaths of two vulnerable patients last year and the findings of the CQC, the trust and NHS commissioners must take immediate action to ensure patient and staff safety.
“They have a responsibility not to commission and open new beds with insufficient nursing staff to provide safe patient care.
“Having the right number of nursing staff with the right skills in the right place at the right time is critical to protecting patients.
“It also protects those staff who too often find themselves struggling to maintain services in the face of nursing vacancies.
“Where safe care cannot be provided then bed closures may be a last resort to protect patients.
“Until action is taken by the regulator, commissioners and the NHS then patients remain at high risk of detriment and potentially serious harm.”
The Royal College of Nursing – the biggest professional nursing union in the UK – says that this nursing shortage is putting both the quality and safety of patient care at risk, as well as leaving many nurses with unmanageable and unsustainable workloads.
The RCN is campaigning for legislation to be introduced that would make clear who is responsible for ensuring the supply and deployment of sufficient numbers of nurses in health and care systems.
Mr Turp said:
“Time and again, inadequate staffing levels are highlighted by the CQC in their inspection reports.
“In the face of a nursing workforce crisis it is impossible to see when and where new staff will come from or how existing staff can be retained and supported.
“The RCN’s Staffing for Safe and Effective Care campaign has been highlighting the nursing workforce crisis to politicians and the public.
“Ultimately, the Westminster government must act now and enshrine safe staffing levels in law in England.”
Just last week the RCN’s campaign for safe and effective care took centre stage during a parliamentary debate on the nursing workforce shortage in England.
The MPs debate focused on the detrimental effect that low staffing levels are having on both nurses and patients, and the importance of recruiting and retaining nurses, providing adequate training and removing the financial barriers for nursing students.
The debate came less than a month after RCN members visited Downing Street to hand in petitions featuring more than 220,0000 signatures urging the government to end the nurse staffing crisis in England.
Following the debate, Mike Adams, RCN Director for England, said:
“Tackling the nursing shortage has to remain the government’s highest priority. There must be a legal responsibility to ensure there are enough nurses now and for the future to provide safe and effective care to all patients.”