Nurses in Scotland are exhausted after pandemic, reveals UNISON survey

Three in four nurses and nursing assistants who responded to UNISON’s latest survey say they are tired or exhausted after working through the pandemic.

The survey, revealed on International Nurses Day today (Wednesday), also showed more than half (56%) had considered leaving their job this year with 32% saying they thought it about it ‘very often’.

While the majority (83%) of those who took part agreed they were ‘proud to be part of the nursing team’ only one in three (34%) would recommend nursing as a career to their friends and family.

A third have decided to bring forward their retirement plans and will now retire within the next five years, 5% will now retire this year.

Other key findings are:

  • Almost two thirds (64%) of respondents described morale in their team as poor or very poor.
  • Only 1 in 10 felt the Scottish government valued their skills
  • Among respondents highest priorities for change are: more staff and a better work/life balance.

Margo Cranmer, chair of UNISON’s nursing sector committee, said: “This shocking survey makes grim reading, especially on International Nurses Day – a day we should be celebrating the nursing teams across the world.

“Scotland’s nursing team is stressed and exhausted. Substantial investment in extra staff and changes to their working lives are essential. The nursing team, along with the rest of NHS staff, need to support to recover from the impact of the pandemic and deal with the backlog of patients that have built up while resources moved to COVID. This should be a stark wake-up call for the Scottish Government to take swift and effective action to improve the working lives of those who work in Scotland’s NHS.”

Willie Duffy, UNISON Scotland’s head of health, said: “These findings show that the NHS workforce is overworked and undervalued. It is a sad indictment that three in four nurses are exhausted and more than half are considering leaving the NHS.

“Maintaining current nursing workforce numbers is not enough, the NHS also needs a bigger nursing team. There were staff shortages before COVID and the backlog created by the focus on COVID adds urgency to the problem.

“Improving working lives is essential to retaining the current workforce but also in recruiting new people into the service. This will require substantially better funding and investment in both getting the right numbers of staff and the right skills mix across the NHS.

“NHS workers don’t want any more warm words they want action.”



  • UNISON is the union for nurses and is Scotland’s largest NHS trade union.
  • More than 500 nurses and nursing assistants took part in the survey.

For more information contact:

Willie Duffy, UNISON Scotland’s head of health, on 07904 342 129

Trisha Hamilton, UNISON Scotland’s communications officer, on 07943 507 307