Chronic staff shortages, concerns about patient safety and plunging morale at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust are the key findings of a staff survey carried out by Unite the union.

Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, warned that the ‘shocking’ findings at the London trust which treated Boris Johnson for coronavirus could well be mirrored across other NHS trusts in England.

Unite's survey of 188 critical care staff (nurses and technical) found:

  • 93 per cent of staff reported understaffing in their unit every shift
  • 100 per cent of staff reported staff wellbeing was affected by understaffing
  • 98 per cent of staff said they felt understaffing made their unit unsafe.

Unite said today (Friday 8 October) that the issues raised by the late summer survey are still very much ‘live’ and were echoed in other departments.

The union estimates that 116 qualified intensive care unit (ICU) nurses have left critical care in the last seven months and that the trust is not managing to replace them all which has led to the skill-mix being heavily diluted.  

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: "These results are shocking and very distressing for our NHS members.  They are total professionals but these chronic staff shortages mean they struggle to give the care they are dedicated to, so morale plummets. 

"Alarm bells have to start ringing across government and the health service.  This must be sorted ahead of the busy winter period because safe staffing is central to proper patient care."

The union is demanding safe staffing legislation for England and Northern Ireland in line with the regulations in Scotland and Wales.

Unite warns that concerns for patient safety come amid a recruitment and retention crisis with vacancies running at an estimated 90,000, waiting lists soaring to 5.4 million in England, further privatisation, and a winter where flu and Covid cases are set to be widespread.  

 Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “These findings are a damning indictment of a decade of underfunding by the Tory government which we fear will be mirrored across other trusts in England. In response to our survey. The trust management has agreed to extend enhanced pay rates for nurses till January, so they are expecting the issue to last until at least then which is completely unsatisfactory.

“The government must step in to ensure effective health and care safe staffing legislation for England and Northern Ireland, following similar legislation by the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales. Ministers must also put money into the NHS urgently to return our health and social care services to pre-pandemic levels.”

The union has been pressing the health and social care secretary Sajid Javid to redouble his efforts to obtain more cash from chancellor Rishi Sunak for the NHS as it braces itself for a winter season of illness and increased hospital admissions.

Unite is dedicated to advancing the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and will fight back against any efforts to diminish workers' living standards.


 Notes to editors:    

The survey was carried out in late summer.

The Unite report will be provided on request.

Unite’s long-standing policy has been for a pay rise of £3,000-a-year or 15 per cent, whichever is greater for all health sector workers.

The Independent article below shows that the problems outlined are not confined to the London trust.

Please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065.

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Email: [email protected]

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Unite is the leading union in the UK and Ireland, dedicated to defending and improving members' jobs, pay and conditions. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.