There are not enough nurses in the UK to safely care for patients, according to a nursing chief.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said a shortage of healthcare staff was “the simple, inescapable truth”, and polling suggests more than one-third are considering leaving the profession.
Separately, the Observer newspaper said it had spoken to nurses who had quit to become dog-walkers or to work in supermarkets.
Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson heralded the “brilliant news” that there are “now 14,800 more nurses than this time last year”, adding in a statement: “We’re well on our way to meeting our manifesto commitment of 50,000 more nurses over this Parliament.”
But Dame Donna said: “The simple, inescapable truth is that we do not have enough nursing staff in the UK to safely care for patients in hospitals, clinics, their own homes or anywhere else.
“With tens of thousands of vacancies in the health and care system right now, any suggestion by politicians that a small increase equals success is disingenuous.
“We know many returned to support the pandemic and 35% of our members surveyed this year said they were considering leaving the profession.
“There is no quick solution to this workforce crisis. It will take honesty and investment on the part of government –including fair pay for all nursing staff and supporting the next generation with their education.”
NHS figures published last month show that some 10% of full-time equivalent registered nurse posts were vacant in the second quarter of 2020-21, equivalent to 36,665 staff, according to the Nursing Times website.
A report by the Health Foundation think tank last week warned nursing shortfalls, along with the backlog in routine care, will make recovering from the pandemic challenging.
It said the Government will need to exceed its target of 50,000 new nurses in England by 2024/25.
Dame Donna said in a statement: “The heavy demand on NHS and care services, long before the pandemic, was outstripping modest increases in staff numbers in some parts.
“The dramatic falls in key areas highlighted here, such as mental health, show we are getting further from what is needed – not closer.”
According to recent research, nurses working with Covid-19 respiratory patients during the first wave of the pandemic suffered anxiety and depression, with younger staff worst affected.
Some nurses also found themselves struggling to support their families both emotionally and financially, the study published in the journal Respiratory Medicine found.
The research, carried out by the University of Southampton in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian (GCU) and Edge Hill universities, predicts that poor mental health may increase this winter as increased Covid-19 cases clash with high volumes of winter admissions.