An exclusive survey of Unite members working in the NHS has revealed shocking levels of staff shortages which are directly impacting on patient safety.

Major survey

The survey of over 3,000 Unite members, working in a multitude of roles throughout the NHS in England, revealed that 48 per cent said that in the past year staffing levels in their area regularly reached a point where “patient care has been compromised and unsafe”.

For specific frontline roles the figures were even higher, with 57 per cent of workers (including paramedics and call handlers) in ambulance trusts reporting that patient care was regularly compromised, while the figure for nurses was even higher at 59 per cent.

Consider quitting

In a further worrying development for the future of the NHS, the survey found that in the last 12 months over half (52 per cent) of respondents said they had considered leaving the NHS altogether, while a further 13 per cent had considered retiring.

Stark findings

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The survey’s findings are stark. Everyday across England patients are being put in danger due to staff shortages.

“The current pay offer, in reality a real terms pay cut, has done nothing to address the recruitment and retention crisis that is undermining patient care. Rather than tackling the causes of the crisis, the government is missing in action.”

Escalating industrial action

The results of Unite’s survey comes at a time when the union is escalating industrial action, after its members rejected the government’s latest pay offer.

Unite had argued that the government’s offer of an additional lump sum payment for 2022/23 and a pay increase of five per cent (which is less than half the true rate of inflation, RPI, of 11.4 per cent) did nothing to address the recruitment and retention crisis affecting the NHS and endangering patient safety.

As Unite continues to escalate its industrial dispute with a series of new ballots and re-ballots, its members will be asked whether they wish to take strike action over both the issue of pay and the recruitment and retention crisis that is the heart of the safe staffing issue.

Staff comments

Comments from the survey about staff shortages include: We cannot get to patients as quickly as we should which compromises patient care. This leads to hospital admissions that could be avoided if we got to them in the target time. When we need back up on a job it is coming from very far away which compromises patient care.” Ambulance worker, South East.

“Unable to carry out basic nursing duties at times, unable to provide patient care and staff being injured as a result of low staffing levels.” Mental health nurse, North West

“Workload increases and morale sinks, feel like a hamster on a never ending treadmill.” Ambulance worker, South East

Staff leaving in droves

Unite national lead officer Onay Kasab said: “NHS staff are dedicated to the health service but the chronic lack of staff, combined with low pay is making them ill and resulting in skilled, dedicated workers leaving in droves.

 “Unite is continuing to escalate the NHS pay dispute in order to ensure that the government returns to the negotiating table and puts forward a pay offer that meets workers' needs and addresses the staffing crisis afflicting the NHS.”

The survey also found that two thirds of respondents (66 per cent) recorded that they regularly felt stressed at work and over three quarters (76 per cent) said they were regularly tired at work.


For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: [email protected]

Unite is the UK and Ireland’s leading union fighting to protect and advance jobs, pay and conditions for members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.