Nurses in the NHS believe the reforms to nursing in the health service are ‘stupid’ and are concerned about dwindling staff numbers.

This is according to leaders at the Royal College of Nursing, who made the comments at its annual conference in Liverpool this weekend.

The RCN said that ministers “had missed an opportunity” to improve patient care after the Stafford Hospital scandal public inquiry in February, criticising its new plans to make trainee nurses to work for a year as healthcare assistants.

This plan by the government can be read as an implicit attack on nursing culture, as ministers have previously said that it believes not all nurses are as compassionate at they are required to be.

To coincide with the annual conference, the RCN has also published a new survey among its members, which found almost 90% of the 8,000 respondents said staffing levels were not always adequate to provide safe patient care, with almost a third saying they were “rarely” or “never safe”.

“Under-staffing is the single biggest challenge facing the NHS today,” said RCN chief executive and general secretary, Dr Peter Carter. “The introduction of mandatory safe staffing levels, enshrined in law, is now a matter of extreme urgency.”

In another survey of 2,086 ward sisters and community team leaders, three out of four said staffing levels dropped to unsafe levels at least once a month. More than a third reported staffing levels were unsafe on a weekly basis, while almost one in ten said staff numbers fell to an unsafe level on every single shift. 

Despite these concerns, nearly half said they were unable to authorise additional staffing when necessary, and of those who were able to initially authorise extra staff, many reported that even then, their requests were ultimately turned down.

“Robert Francis rightly highlighted that ward sisters will be crucial in driving improvements in care, and this means the Government must listen to them,” Dr Peter Carter added. “The concerns of ward sisters are very clear: they do not have enough staff to always provide the high level of care they know all patients deserve.”