28/04/2003

Lack of nurses puts patients at risk

A lack of qualified nurses means that students are being left in sole charge of patients in the NHS, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned.

The RCN has pointed to a "serious lack" of registered nurses to support and guide students, which is "endangering patient care and short-changing these urgently needed new recruits to nursing".

According to a MORI Social Research Institute survey, commissioned by the RCN, a third of student nurses (35%) have been left in charge of patients in the absence of registered nurses and doctors and over a quarter (28%) of first year students have also been left alone in charge of patients.

The survey of 1,000 student nurses, which marks the start of the RCN's annual Congress, found that more than one-in-10 (13%) students were left in charge of patients on more than five occasions.

President of the Royal College of Nursing, Sylvia Denton OBE FRCN, said: "Students on clinical placements should never be left alone in charge of patients - it's bad for patients and it's simply wrong to expect students to take responsibility in this way.

"Nurses show their commitment to the NHS every single day and despite many having a tough time during their educational programmes, today's student nurses are still showing the same dedication. We simply have to recognise and reward this motivation.

She added: "The government's target of 80,000 more nurses by 2008 is ambitious. But we need to find new ways of supporting student nurses right now."

A shortage of practical placements for students was also highlighted by the survey with around one-in-10 (12%) students having a clinical placement cancelled.

RCN General Secretary, Dr Beverly Malone, said: "Clinical placements are an opportunity for students to gain confidence and get real hands-on experience of nursing patients. Far too many are being cancelled and this has to affect the quality of nurse education. Students who have missed out on placements tell me they often feel lacking in confidence when they qualify."

(GMcG)

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