Nurses in Scotland are so overworked due to understaffing they have no time to report chronic staff shortages, according to a survey of staff carried out by UNISON.

UNISON notes that staff are ‘in a catch-22 position where they are too overworked to take time out to record the extent of the overwork.’  And even if they find time many do not see the point of reporting as nothing changes in staffing.

The result is that the impact of the staffing crisis is being underreported.

The survey of 1,100 nursing staff across Scotland carried out by UNISON shows the overwhelming majority (94%) of nurses in Scotland have experienced understaffing on their wards on either a daily (72%) or a weekly (22%) basis, with 81% saying this negatively impacts upon patients’ care either frequently or regularly.

Staff are supposed to use the Datix system to report critical incidents and concerns, including understaffing, but 83% of staff in the survey said they did not believe the Datix system was an adequate tool for keeping track of staff shortages .

Others in the survey said they have given up using the Datix system as continual reports made no difference to the staffing position. Others reported that managers frown on use of the system.

Comments from nurses who completed the survey included that using Datix was ‘a task that when you’re short you would rather not do as it achieves nothing, nothing changes.’ With another nurse commenting that ‘no one does anything. And if short staffed there’s no time to complete it. Management knows of shortages.’ 

The effect of understaffing is poor care for patients and increased stress for staff, comments in the survey included that staff have to do a 2-person job and patient care is not being delivered as it should be. One registered nurse who works with critically ill patients commented that:

‘It’s stressful and sad working short [staffed] with critically ill patients: you’re unable to give the care they should get. You can’t turn often enough as [there are] not enough staff to do so.’

Other staff noted how little time there was to cover observations and do normal every day jobs.

Commenting on the survey, Wilma Brown, an NHS nurse and also chair of UNISON Scotland’s health committee, said: ‘The situation on the ground is desperate, there are just too few nurses to be able to do the job properly and staff are struggling to provide patients with the care they deserve. Ministers are failing in their duty of care to both patients and staff and we need urgent action to provide a long-term solution to this crisis.”

The results came as no surprise, noted Matt McLaughlin, UNISON Scotland’s head of health: ‘UNISON has been saying for years that the NHS incident reporting system is outdated and simply isn’t working. It’s impossible for the Scottish government to have a handle on the scale of the staffing crisis when so many incidents are going unreported… Employers and Government know that staff have neither time nor confidence in Datix and yet they continue to hide behind it. We need a system in place that records information in real-time and most importantly is responded to in real time. This should serve as a real wake-up call for the Chief Nursing Officer  – we need less talk and more action.’



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