Almost a third of nurses in Scotland think the health service needs serious improvement, according to a survey.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) questioned nurses from across the UK and almost 1,000 from Scotland responded, with three in 10 (30.2%) saying the current state of the health service needs an urgent upgrade.
A total of 62.5% of Scottish nurses reported a struggle for hospital beds, with only 12.8% saying the NHS is able to meet demand or succeed expectations.
Scottish respondents also highlighted pressures at work, with about nine out of 10 (88.8%) saying their workload has worsened and more than three-quarters (78.6%) saying health service finances have deteriorated.
The impact of a rising number of older people needing care was felt by nine in 10 (88.8%) Scottish nurses and 74.1% reported a higher prevalence of age-related conditions.
One Scottish nurse told the RCN: “I get scared for the future as we are already overwhelmed and often work long hours without overtime. Missing breaks to meet demand is normal now.”
RCN Scotland Director Theresa Fyffe said: “This survey clearly shows how much pressure nursing staff are experiencing on a daily basis because of rising demand, made worse by the financial position of many of our health boards.
“It’s just not realistic to think that health boards can deliver the same services to more and more people, and achieve the ongoing efficiency savings demanded by government.
“The RCN is really concerned that, without urgent transformation to how health services are delivered in Scotland, there’s a risk of a return to the bad old days of ‘boom and bust’, with health boards targeting the nursing workforce for cuts simply to balance the books.”
She warned health boards not to use nursing shortages and the need for agency nurses to fill gaps as “an excuse” to downgrade nursing pay or replace registered nurses with non-registered staff in a bid to cut costs, saying it would “impact patient care”.
The RCN is holding its five-day annual congress in Glasgow from Saturday.
Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “This is a stark warning from the very people who know our NHS best.
“The message coming from people who have dedicated their careers to caring for others is coming through loud and clear – our NHS needs more support.
“The SNP’s response to this can’t simply be to review targets and water down standards, they have to deliver better support to staff and our health service.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison pledged to work with the RCN and other professional bodies to help improve staff experience, highlighting a £27 million Scottish Government support package for health board employees announced earlier this year.
She added: “We know there are challenges to be addressed but it is welcome that in the last NHS employee survey staff remained committed to their roles – with almost nine out of ten willing to go the ‘extra mile’ at work.
“We will continue to work in partnership with professional bodies including the RCN to discuss how we can further improve the experience of staff working in Scotland’s NHS.
“Working in the NHS can be demanding and I am extremely thankful for the hard work and dedication of our staff. It is due to their ongoing commitment that the NHS in Scotland is able to provide world-class care for patients.
“Under this government, NHS staff numbers have risen to a record high, with more consultants, nurses and midwives delivering care for the people of Scotland.
“I also recently announced a review of NHS targets and we will work closely with stakeholders, including the RCN, to ensure they are continuing to deliver better outcomes for patients as well as making best use of NHS resources.”