Today I have added my name to the Royal College of Nursing’s #safestaffingsaveslives petition.
The NHS is one of our country’s proudest achievements. However, we are taking its staff for granted. Unpaid overtime has become a daily expectation rather than a rare exception. As a result, nurses and doctors are burning out and leaving the profession. This puts extra pressure on remaining staff. When wards are short-staffed, nurses and doctors find that their ability to provide safe and high-quality care is compromised, increasing the stress and pressure that they face.
Growing waiting times, cuts to services and beds lying empty due to lack of staff are symptoms of this problem. At Chalmers Hospital in Banff (pictured above), services have been cut due to staffing shortages. While this has understandably attracted complaints, it’s time to discuss the root cause of the issue – problems with staff retention because nurses and doctors have been stretched to breaking point.
The Scottish Government has recognised that there are staffing shortages in NHS Scotland, and responded with a small increase in the number of students starting medical school in Scotland. However, a 2019 Audit Scotland report stated that ongoing retention problems, combined with the scheduled retirement of older staff, mean we have unfortunately reached a point where we have to run just to stand still.
Audit Scotland criticised the Scottish Government for failing to assess the impact of workplace pressures on staff. To put it bluntly, there is no point training new doctors and nurses only to have them leave the profession (or emigrate to Australia) due to unreasonable and unsustainable working conditions. It is time to recognise that this problem exists, and to show the medical profession that the political will to fix it also exists.