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Impact of nursing shortage and nurses strike on UK's healthcare system

Nurses strike in the UK is due to low pay, over workload, and undervalued

How are nurses shortage and strike affecting the UK healthcare system?

The NHS has recently been plagued by two major issues: a nursing worker shortage and a recent nurses' strike. The COVID-19 pandemic has made healthcare fragile and unable to meet the health needs of communities around the world. One of the best healthcare workforces in the world, the NHS, has been weakened by burnout, exhaustion, and mistreatment, as well as an estimate of over 200,000 deaths caused by COVID-19

However, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) reports that a critical shortage of nursing professionals in the UK was compromising patient care even before the COVID-19 pandemic. This report also shows how long-standing problems with nursing professional recruitment and retention have gotten worse in the last two years. According to an RCN survey, 73% of nursing workers in the UK reported that staffing levels on their last shift were insufficient to meet the needs of patients safely and effectively. More than half (57%) of respondents thought patient care was jeopardised. 

The report describes the nursing workforce picture in the UK, identifying concerning factors affecting future staff supply and the impact on patient safety. Also, one in five people who are currently serving in the NHS is 56 or older and wants to retire in the next few years or even sooner because they are under so much stress. 

According to the reports, only 56% of the new people that joined the UK nursing register in 2021 were educated and trained in the UK, revealing a long-standing over-reliance on international recruitment that may come at the expense of other countries that need to retain their workforce. Furthermore, despite fewer nurses leaving the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register, the number of registered nurses has decreased since COVID began. 

High workload, fast burnout 

The UK healthcare system had relied on EU nurses to fill skill gaps, but that supply has dwindled as Brexit has come into existence. As a result, nurses in England have among the highest workloads and burnout rates in the EU. Nurses work 12-hour shifts with no breaks and additional unpaid hours on top of their contracted hours. 

Poor staffing levels have an impact on patient care to the point where patients' lives are jeopardised and the risk of complications and readmission to the hospital increases. According to research, the strength of the nurse workforce lies not only in its quantity but also in its quality, which includes factors such as skill mix and degree level qualification. 

To add to the nursing shortage crisis, nurses in the UK have gone on strike in response to low pay, understaffing, overwork, and undervaluation. There is a significant risk that the number of nursing staff in the UK will continue to leave the profession in the coming years, exacerbating the current staff shortage. Without significant improvements in recruitment and retention, the NHS workforce will remain chronically understaffed. 

Impact of nurses' strike on staffing 

There are many effects of the UK nurses' strike on staffing. They are as follows: 

Possibility of a "lockout" 

A "lockout" occurs when nurses are unable to return to work following a strike. This occurs when hospitals rely on temporary nurses to fill the shortage left by strike-breaking nurses. These temporary nurses are hired on a contractual basis, and hospitals usually wait until the contract expires before terminating them, leaving the permanent staff unemployed. As a result, the striking nurses are effectively "locked out" and unable to return to work. 

Pay is low to non-existent 

When a strike occurs, nurses at the hospital will receive little to no pay. Although their right to strike is protected by laws that protect them from charges of patient abandonment, they are not entitled to compensation for their regular working hours. This could be a significant sum deducted from their pay check. 

An issue like this could cause employee dissatisfaction, which could lead to further consequences. In such a situation, nurses may choose to leave the hospital, increasing the turnover rate. A higher turnover rate would be detrimental to the hospital's reputation and would have an impact on future hiring, leaving the hospital with a shortage of nurses in the future. 

Increased hospital expenses 

Strikes have an impact not only on the employees but also on the hospital itself. Strikes by nurses can cause significant financial losses for healthcare organisations. 

According to the report, healthcare systems are in crisis in terms of having enough staff to provide safe and effective care. When nurses go on strike, hospitals and other healthcare facilities may need to hire temporary replacements, which can be costly. 

It's never easy for hospitals to find the right qualified nurses, so they may have to hire travel nurses at higher rates and pay more to fly them to the location and take care of them. 

When there is a shortage of nurses, patients need to be transferred to other healthcare facilities, resulting in additional expenses. Also, strikes and bad care can hurt the hospital's reputation, which can lead to fewer people working there and keep nurses from wanting to work there. 

Scramble for temporary replacements 

During a nurses' strike, staffing levels are depleted and, at the same time, doubled. The roles left behind by the nurses on strike may pose a problem for the hospital, leaving the healthcare facility with a nurse shortage. 

On the other hand, healthcare facilities must find a way—or multiple ways—to replace these nurses on strike with temporary staff quickly. Although there are options like travel nursing or contract nursing, there is still a process for their employment. This could lead to several days when the healthcare facility is understaffed. 

When a hospital hires temporary workers, this can lead to a "lockout," which can double the number of nurses working there at that time. 

Reduced staff expertise 

During the nurses' strike, healthcare facilities face a significant shortage of expertise. Although temporary nurses bring their own expertise, it will take time for them to become familiar with the patients and the protocols in place. 

A nurses' strike may also leave behind inexperienced and new nurses in the field. Reduced staff expertise may pose a big problem to hospitals, including possible sanctions and destroyed reputations. 

Nurses Group is one of the leading nursing staffing agencies based in Yeovil, ready to resolve all such staff shortage issues throughout the UK. We understand how tough it is to run a healthcare facility with a nursing staff shortage, a lack of expertise, and deteriorating quality care. Thus, we provide all kinds of care facilities with qualified and skilled nursing staff to cover their staff shortage during the strike. We are capable of providing emergency care professionals on short notice. 

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