Scotland’s overworked nurses in a ‘catch-22’ as no time to report chronic staff shortages, says UNISON

Scotland’s largest health union, UNISON, has today (Friday) revealed the full impact of the NHS staffing crisis is not being recorded.

A survey of over 1100 nursing staff across Scotland shows that overworked staff either don’t have the time to record the impact of understaffing – or have stopped doing so as it makes no difference.

The UNISON survey shows the overwhelming majority (94%) of nurses in Scotland have experienced understaffing on their wards on either a daily (72%) or a weekly (22%) basis, with more than 80% saying this negatively impacts upon patients’ care either frequently or regularly.

Staff are meant to compile reports of understaffing on an NHS system called Datix, which is designed to record critical incidents and concerns. However the survey findings – based on more than 1100 responses from nurses across Scotland – show only 16% believe the Datix system is adequate. Many say they do not use the system, because they are in a catch-22 position where they are too overworked to take time out to record the extent of the overwork. Others say they have given up using the system as continual reports made no difference to the staffing position. Others report that managers frown on use of the system.

The key findings from the survey – which have been revealed on International Nurses’ Day today (Friday) – show:

· 94% said they had experienced short-staffing on their wards
· 81% said short-staffing has a negative impact on patient care on a “regular or frequent” basis
· 83% said they did not believe the Datix system used in Scotland’s NHS was an adequate tool for keeping track of Staff shortages .

Wilma Brown, an NHS nurse and also chair of UNISON Scotland’s health committee, said: “This survey makes clear that NHS staff don’t have time to properly report the effect of chronic under-staffing across the NHS and the impact it is having on patients. It’s vital that staff can report the true picture, so NHS leaders can make the changes needed.

“The situation on the ground is desperate, there are just too few nurses to be able to do the job properly and staff are struggling to provide patients with the care they deserve.

“Ministers are failing in their duty of care to both patients and staff and we need urgent action to provide a long-term solution to this crisis.”

Matt McLaughlin, UNISON Scotland’s head of health, said: “Sadly these results are no surprise. UNISON has been saying for years that the NHS incident reporting system is outdated and simply isn’t working. It’s impossible for the Scottish government to have a handle on the scale of the staffing crisis when so many incidents are going unreported.

“Employers and Government know that staff have neither time nor confidence in Datix and yet they continue to hide behind it.We need a system in place that records information in real-time and most importantly is responded to in real time. This should serve as a real wake-up call for the Chief Nursing Officer  – we need less talk and more action.”

Comments from nursing staff on reasons for not reporting staff shortages:
• Sadly, haven’t as no time to do (ward nurse Grampian)
• Pointless. It’s a task that when you’re short you would rather not do as it achieves nothing, nothing changes. (ward nurse Ayrshire and Arran)
• Don’t have time to report it on Datix (ward nurse Greater Glasgow)
• It’s a huge form that takes a lot of time to do when you’re already short staffed. It’s not good or useful. (Anon)
• No one does anything. And if short staffed there’s no time to complete it. Management know of shortages. (Anon)
• Got told that no point in putting in a Datix as they can’t magic up staff!!!! So no point in wasting my time (ward nurse Lothian)
• Management don’t appreciate it (community nurse Lothian)

Comments on impact of staffing shortages on patient care:
• We are expected to do a 2-person job when left on shift with bank staff as they are not competent in high level injury patients, (health care support worker Ayrshire & Arran)
• It’s stressful and sad working short with critically ill patients: you’re unable to give the care they should get. You can’t turn often enough as not enough staff to do so, not so well supported as not enough staff to facilitate support, (registered nurse , Ayrshire & Arran)
• Job has become unsafe due to staff to patient ratios. Care is not delivered as it should be (midwife Tayside)
•  I’m looking to leave critical care after nearly 20 years… fed up of staffing shortfalls and patient care being compromised.  Was sent to an admissions ward to work a nightshift to cover a sick call and was worried I’d lose my registration it was so awful. I’m used to 1:1 nursing and I’m appalled that I can be sent to a ward to take charge of 12 patients. (registered nurse Lothian)
• Not enough staff to cover constant observations and do normal everyday jobs (registered mental health nurse Grampian)


Notes to editors:

View more basic survey data here:
Read UNISON Scotland’s briefing on the NHS staffing crisis here:
UNISON is Scotland’s largest health union representing 50,000 NHS workers across Agenda for Change including: nurses, midwives, managers, domestics, porters allied health professionals (AHPs) and administrative workers. The union has membership in every health board in Scotland, as well as across Scottish public services.

UNISON contact details:

Danny Phillips, communication officer: 07944 664110