Four in five nurses think staffing levels are insufficient to meet patient needs

Press Releases

14 Dec 2017

New survey findings reveal a picture of the nursing workforce facing severe challenges, with increasing workforce pressures affecting patient care.

Now, more than at any time in the past ten years, many nursing staff do not feel able to provide the level of care that they would like, grappling with short-staffing, abuse and low morale in their workplace.

The survey, conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) on behalf of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), found that four in five (79%) nursing staff feel that staffing levels at their place of work are insufficient to meet patient needs, up from 56 per cent in 2007. What’s more, more than three in four (77%) feel that patient care is compromised several times a month because of short-staffing.

The survey findings also reveal the risks for future staffing, with over a third (37%) of nursing staff reporting that they are looking for a new job. These findings compound the issues facing the nursing workforce and the wider NHS, including an ageing workforce, population growth and the impact of Brexit on the supply of nursing staff from the EU.

Across many of the survey findings, nursing staff working in mental health, nursing homes, and community- and district-nursing report worse experience of work than others, highlighting areas under particular pressure.

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • Most nursing staff (63%) feel that they are too busy to provide the level of care they would like, up from 40 per cent in 2007. The same percentage feel that they are under too much pressure at work.
  • Only 34 per cent feel able to balance their home and work lives, compared to 59 per cent 10 years ago. Seventy one per cent work additional hours at least once a week but only half are paid for these hours.
  • Levels of ‘presenteeism’ have increased, with just under half (49%) of nursing staff stating that they have gone to work when unwell at least twice in the past year. This is up from 41 per cent in 2013. Stress and mental health issues account for a significant proportion of health problems.

Dr Rachel Marangozov, IES research associate and lead author of the survey report, said:

‘There is widespread recognition that parts of the NHS are under significant workforce and staffing pressures and this survey suggests that most nurses now fear that the quality of patient care risks being compromised as a result. These challenges are likely to be compounded by the impact of Brexit on migration and, as previous IES research highlighted, the fact that one in three nurses is due to reach retirement age within the next 10 years.

‘This survey reveals the personal and financial costs of a career in modern-day nursing. These are costs which many nurses now judge to be too high, not just in terms of inadequate pay, increasing workload pressures, and declining levels of their own health, but also in terms of compromised levels of patient care – the very thing that motivated many of them to take up a career in nursing in the first place.’

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said:

‘These are the most worrying findings yet from our long-running Employment Survey.  Working conditions for nursing staff have got steadily worse, with more nursing staff saying there simply aren’t enough of them, and more saying patient care is being compromised.  It’s no surprise given that in England alone, there are now 40,000 nursing vacancies.

‘The picture painted by the survey is one of demoralised, overworked nursing staff fearful for their patients.  If we don’t want to see the same findings repeated in ten years’ time, the Government needs to make nursing a far more attractive career by paying staff fairly, making their promise to increase the number of nurses a reality, and stemming the flow of nursing staff leaving the profession.’


Notes to editor

IES was commissioned by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to conduct the Nursing Employment Survey 2017. The survey was conducted online and achieved 7,720 responses. The respondent profile was sufficiently similar to the RCN membership that it can be said to be representative of the membership as a whole.

The term ‘nursing staff’ is used to refer to the variety of different nursing roles that are represented in the RCN membership. In the report, where the findings relate to registered nurses only (for example, on pay bands in the NHS), the term ‘nurses’ is used.

Survey questions were structured around five key areas: staffing levels and workload; abuse, harassment and bullying; pay and grading; income and additional work/hours; and career satisfaction, development and progression.

Some of the findings from the survey were trailed by RCN in mid-November. These are not the findings that IES is highlighting today.

IES research on behalf of the Migration Advisory Committee, published in July 2016, revealed that one in three nurses was due to reach retirement age within ten years. Further IES analysis in late-2016 mapped the regions and NHS trusts in England most vulnerable to the associated risks of Brexit and population growth.

Interviews and further information

Dr Rachel Marangozov, lead survey report author, is available for interviews/comment. Please contact Mark Jack, IES communications officer: or 01273 763 435

The report

The report is available to download from

About Dr Rachel Marangozov

Dr Rachel Marangozov has over a decade of experience in researching labour market disadvantage among minority ethnic and migrant communities, both in the UK and in other European Member States. She holds M. Phil and PhD degrees from the University of Cambridge and holds a number of advisory positions and affiliations, including Directorship of MigrationWork CIC.