NURSES from Portsmouth have joined a nationwide call for the government to address unsafe staffing levels - as figures reveal stress and mental health issues are the main cause of sick days within the city's hospital trust.
The Royal College of Nursing is calling for the government to create a body that is accountable for nurse staffing at all levels of health and care services.
More than one in 10 nursing positions are vacant across Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which employs 2,163 registered nurses.
Stress induced sickness and a lack of cover for staff to attend family funerals were just some of the effects of the shortage, according to nurses who were part of a Royal College Nursing event in Westminster.
Stress and other mental health problems are the main cause of sick days for NHS staff at the trust, accounting for more than 16,700 days lost to illness last year, according to NHS Digital figures revealed this month.
Charlotte Levitt, a staff nurse at Queen Alexandra Hospital, said she had to take time off due to ‘burn out’ caused by her workload.
She said: ‘I have had to go off sick for more than a week because of how hectic our shifts are.
‘People are coming into the workforce for a short amount of time before they are burned out.
‘Middle-aged nurses in particular are leaving – which is draining a lot of experience out of the system.
Nursing staff turnover across the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust has reduced from 13.5 per cent in September 2018 to 12.1 per cent in May this year, which is the lowest figure for almost two years.
Liz Jeremiah, a sister in ICU at QA and chairwoman of RCN Portsmouth branch, said there was ‘a big problem’ of staff working when they were ill from stress.
She said: ‘People go into work with stomach upsets, migraines, all sorts – they should not be in work.
‘They are so worried about leaving people more short-staffed.’
Liz said she remained ‘very proud’ to be working for the trust.
She added: ‘It’s a great trust – everyone cares.’
The director of workforce at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Nicole Cornelius, said the trust was making progress.
She said: ‘We are very pleased to see a significant improvement in our staff recruitment and retention rates in recent months.
‘We have welcomed 138 nurses since January with another 185 expected to join us very soon.’
Patient safety is at risk due to a shortage of 40,000 nurses in England, according to a new study.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the rising rate of hospital admissions is dwarfing the recruitment of extra nurses to the NHS.
Its analysis shows that the extra 9,894 nurses recruited to NHS hospitals since 2013/14 is outstripped by the additional 1,557,074 admissions over the same period.
A separate poll for the union of 1,692 people in the UK found 71 per cent think there are not enough nurses to provide safe care to patients.
Of 1,408 people polled in England, 37 per cent said their top priority for any extra NHS funding was the recruitment of more nurses.
And some 67 per cent wrongly believed the government has a legal responsibility to ensure there are sufficient nursing staff in the NHS.
The RCN has launched an advertising campaign to encourage the public to speak up about the impact nurse shortages has on care.
Healthwatch England, the national consumer group for people who use health and social care services, said patients had a right to know whether safe staffing levels were being achieved on hospital wards.
And it said the right mix of staff - such as the ratio of healthcare assistants to fully qualified nurses - needed to be in place.
The RCN is calling for new legislation to ensure accountability for safe nurse staffing at all levels of health and care services in England.
It also wants an investment of at least £1bn in nurse higher education to reverse the declining numbers opting to study nursing.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the RCN, said: ‘We're issuing a stark warning that patient safety is being endangered by nursing shortages.
‘Staffing shortfalls are never simply numbers on a spreadsheet - they affect real patients in real communities.
‘We're calling on the public in England to fight for nurses and sign our petition calling on the Westminster government to invest in the future workforce and make clear who is accountable in law for safe patient care.’