Nurses at 'breaking point' and feeling worse off financially, union leaders warn

12 December 2017, 06:20

Hospital nurse

Nurses across Scotland are at "breaking point", union leaders warned, after a new survey found almost three quarters feel worse off financially then they did five years ago.

A poll carried out by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union found that 61% of nurses questions in Scotland said they were too busy at work to provide patients with the level of care they would like.

The organisation conducts an in-depth poll of its members every two years, questioning them on issues including pay, career satisfaction, staffing and workload and harassment and bullying.

Nearly 800 nurses in Scotland took part in the research, with 74% of those who took part reported feeling financially worse off than they did five years.

As well as the 40% who said money worries were causing them to lose sleep, 36% said they were looking for a new job.

Almost two thirds (65%) reported that their job band or grade was inappropriate for the work they actually do, and no longer matched the responsibilities of their role.

And while 68% described nursing as being a rewarding profession, only 38% said they would recommend it to others as a career.

The RCN published the figures ahead of this weeks Scottish Budget, to highlight the impact that the "prolonged" public sector pay freeze has had on morale in the profession.

The Scottish Government has pledged to end this, but with the UK inflation rate currently at 3% it is not certain if Finance Secretary Derek Mackay will be able to give public sector staff a real terms pay rise.

But RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said Thursday's Budget must include an "above inflation pay award for hard-pressed nursing staff".

She stated: "Given the prolonged pay freeze and soaring nursing vacancies left unfilled it is no surprise that our survey highlights that the morale of nurses and health care support workers in our NHS is plummeting.

"For too long the concerns of Scotland's nursing teams have been ignored, and nurses have been suggesting they don't have the resources to fulfil their jobs properly.

"The Scottish Government must fulfil its commitment to raise living standards and aid recruitment by confirming an above inflation pay award for hard-pressed nursing staff in the budget."

Ms Fyffe continued: "It shouldn't be the case that nurses and health care support workers are taking on a second job, or leaving a job that they love because they are struggling to make ends meet.

"The survey's findings should fire a warning shot across the bows, for the Scottish Government our nursing workforce is at breaking point.

"The Scottish Government has the opportunity to ensure nursing staff receive the pay they deserve and to address the workload challenges with its proposed safe staffing legislation, safeguarding nursing in Scotland for generations to come.

"Nursing teams on the frontline have spoken out - it is now up to those in positions of power to listen and to act fast."

Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs branded the results of the survey as "alarming", adding that the "expose the challenges faced by hard-working NHS staff".

The Tory MSP hit out: "The SNP is in sole charge of health, and has been for more than a decade.

"It can't blame anyone else for this situation, and should set out how it's going to make life better for Scotland's over-stretched nurses."

Meanwhile Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar blasted: "This survey is utterly damning and confirms what Labour has been saying for some time - Scotland's nurses are underpaid and undervalued under the SNP.

"Almost three quarters of Scotland's nurses feeling worse off is an absolutely damning indictment of the SNP's pay policy. Over 60% feel they are too busy to provide the level of care they would like.

"These figures should be setting off alarm bells ahead of the Scottish budget. We cannot expect our NHS to deliver the care Scots deserve if staff don't get the support they need."

He added: "NHS staff are foundations that our health service is built on, but a nurse is over £3,000 worse off thanks to the pay cap and there are thousands of unfilled nursing and midwifery posts across our health service."

Green health spokeswoman Alison Johnstone said: "Public sector workers play a vital role in our communities, from nursing and social care staff to teachers and police officers and the real-terms pay cuts they've endured must end.

"The findings of this report should confirm what ministers should already know, that problems like recruitment, retention and staff morale will become even worse if we don't ensure a fair pay settlement, above inflation, to nurses and other dedicated professionals working in the NHS."

She called on Mr Mackay to "listen to groups representing frontline workers such as RCN Scotland and back the basic principle that a pay rise for our public services is due".

Ms Johnstone also stressed this should be funded "not from cuts elsewhere, but from fairer taxation that protects low earners".

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "If the results of this survey don't make the Scottish Government sit up, take notice and deliver real change, I don't know what will.

"SNP ministers have relied on the goodwill of NHS staff for far too long. It is time they were given the pay rise they deserve and the resources they need to deliver the quality of care that they know they can, given the right support."

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "NHS staffing has increased by over 12,400 under this Government. We've also maintained a policy of no compulsory redundancies in Scotland, ensuring greater job security, which has not been replicated in England.

"A qualified nurse in Scotland is paid up to £312 more than counterparts in England and Wales, and all entry level support staff earn over £1,000 more than their counterparts in England.

"However, with inflation rising, the Scottish Government recognises that the present pay restraint policy is unsustainable, which is why we were the first government in the UK to commit to lifting the 1% pay cap."