Staffing shortages a barrier to end-of-life care, nurses say

Nurses are struggling to look after dying patients because of staff shortages, a survey suggests.
Nurses are struggling to look after dying patients because of staff shortages, a survey suggests.
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Nurses are struggling to look after dying patients because of staff shortages, a survey suggests.

Two-thirds of nurses (65%) said staffing levels are the main "barrier" to providing good care in the final stages of patients' lives, according to an annual poll by magazine Nursing Standard and charity Marie Curie.

In 2018, 38% of those surveyed said this was the case.

Meanwhile, more than half (57%) of nurses reported time constraints as an issue, compared to 25% last year.

Amanda Cheesley, from the Royal College of Nursing, said: "Staff shortages are placing nurses under intolerable strain right across the NHS, and it is not surprising that nurses caring for people at the end of life feel unable to provide the level of care that these patients and their families expect and should have.

"With a current shortfall of 40,000 registered nurse vacancies in England alone, it's time for the government to change the law so that ministers and local NHS providers are explicitly accountable for making sure the NHS is safely staffed."

The survey, of more than 5,300 nurses and care staff, also found a third (33%) do not feel sufficiently supported at work to manage feelings of grief and emotional stress.

One respondent, who had 10 patients die within six weeks, said they were told they might be "in the wrong job" after speaking to a manager about the lack of support available to staff.

Julie Pearce, executive director of nursing, allied health professionals and quality at Marie Curie, said: "The results show that in the NHS and the caring sector, staff are doing their best to do the right thing for patients, but are feeling hard pressed.

"There seems to be more fragmentation in services, which affects the vital continuity of care for patients and their families during a very significant part of their journey through life and death."

She added: "The emotional burden of care should not be underestimated and requires active support by employers in supporting the health and wellbeing of its staff.

"To enable staff to care for patients and their families in a compassionate way, organisations really need to invest in the health and wellbeing of staff and the type of support they offer."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: "Nurses play a vital role in delivering high quality end-of-life care and there are over 17,100 more nurses on our wards since 2010, with 52,000 more in training.

"As part of the NHS Long Term Plan we are committed to creating a modern working environment for staff, ensuring their mental and physical health is fully supported at work.

"The UK is ranked as one of the best countries in the world for palliative care and we are committed to improving patient choice and ending variation through the NHS Long Term Plan."