NURSES who are exhausted and overwhelmed by the pandemic are regularly working 12-hour shifts to keep the NHS afloat, according to a new survey.

The poll of more than 9,000 UK nursing staff for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) found many are thinking of quitting and are unhappy with the quality of care they can provide due to inadequate staffing.

In a foreword to the report, Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the RCN, said: “Nursing is not a heroic deed, a selfless act or a vocation.

“Nursing is a safety critical profession, essential to society and it takes its responsibilities very seriously.

“The evidence in this report shows many of our members now find the pressure on them intolerable.”

The poll, which was carried out in October before Omicron hit, found three in four (74%) nursing staff report regularly working beyond their shifts, most often unpaid, with 17% doing so on every shift.

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Many said they work 12-hour shifts as standard and a third have been unable to take their annual leave, even though they feel this is detrimental to their health and wellbeing.

The poll found only two-thirds (63%) of respondents said they had been able to take their full holiday entitlement over the last year.

Meanwhile, faced with staff shortages and workload pressures, 68% reported they feel under too much pressure at work, and 62% are too busy to provide the level of care they would like to.

Just over three-quarters (77%) said they had worked when they should have taken sick leave on at least one occasion over the previous 12 months.

Of those who had worked when unwell, 67% said they were unwell due to stress and 38% stated this was due to mental health issues.

When it comes to the future, the poll found 57% of nursing staff are considering or planning on leaving their current post – including planning for retirement.

The intention to leave is strongest among nursing staff working in NHS hospitals, with 60% considering or planning on leaving their job.

The main reasons for wanting to leave, according to the survey, are feeling undervalued and being under too much pressure.

Around six in 10 (63%) of all staff said their pay band or level was inappropriate for the work they do.

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One advanced nurse practitioner at an NHS hospital in Scotland said: “Our area is overwhelmed and unable to provide safe and high standard of care to our patients. Queues of patients out the door.

“I have always enjoyed my job and found it rewarding. It feels like we are sinking in quick sand with no way out.”

Ms Cullen added: “As the pandemic moves into a third calendar year and now we face another Covid wave, our members talk vividly about the toll of the pandemic and years of understaffing.

“Nursing undoubtedly has the potential to be a hugely rich and satisfying career, but with tens of thousands of nursing jobs unfilled the situation is unsustainable.

“All nursing staff need funded and supported time out – not limited to annual leave – for all staff, regardless of which setting they work.

“Likewise, where staff have taken time off due to illness, rest and recuperation must be central to decision-making about their return to work. Proper mental and psychological support services need to be made available.”

A clinical nurse specialist in urgent care in Wales who responded to the survey said there was a “constant threat” of being redeployed at any time to fill rota gaps.

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They added: “Since Covid-19, patients and families are waiting so long to access care, so many distressed people, families are calling daily, the calls are heart-breaking.

“The aggression is increasing, and I am not sure how much more I can take.”

RCN representative and London nurse Jodie Elliott said: “Every day we come in to do a good job; when you can’t do that because you don’t have the staff it breaks my heart.”

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