Wales

Cuts hit Welsh NHS patient safety, says Royal College of Nursing

Patient safety in Welsh hospitals is being compromised by a drive to save money, says a nursing union.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says the Welsh government has warned NHS managers to hit financial year-end targets despite a £50m shortfall.

RCN Wales director Tina Donnelly said members in several health boards reported concerns on patient safety.

The Welsh NHS Confederation denied safety was being undermined and said it remained a priority.

Ms Donnelly said nurses had reported having to work shifts with reduced staff numbers, as well as experiencing shortages of basics such as bed linen.

"They really are finding it very, very difficult in the last three months of this financial year," she said.

"Staffing levels are a lot lower and also their grading is being reduced, which reduces the level of supervision which they are able to have in clinical practice."

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Media captionOne nurse said they were increasingly stretched

An experienced nurse who spoke anonymously to BBC Wales said the patients on her ward "don't get the care they need".

The nurse claimed their usual shift of 30 staff had been reduced by "three or four trained nurses per shift - which is a lot in the area I work in, and it puts a lot more pressure on those senior nurses that are around to help the more junior staff with the complex needs of the patients that we have".

'Undermined'

She said the problem was compounded by cutbacks on basic equipment, and dealing with "broken equipment that takes a long time to be fixed because of financial constraints and bed linen being short".

Her claims were supported by RCN Wales, who said safety was being undermined.

Ms Donnelly said: "If you don't have sufficient staff to look after your patients, with appropriate equipment and all the other consumables that you need, then patient care will be compromised and subsequently patients will be at risk."

Health boards have been set savings targets for the current financial year, but in December reported potential shortfall of £50m.

According to Helen Birtwhistle of the Welsh NHS Confederation, which represents health boards and trusts, patient safety remains the "top priority".

"There's no question that hospitals have got a significant task in living within their means," she says, "we know what we're expected to do."

"What we also know is that certain levels of staffing have to be maintained to maintain patient safety and that is absolutely uppermost in everybody's mind."

Conservative health spokesman Darren Millar AM blamed budget cuts and said the fears for patient safety were "both disturbing and unsettling".

Plaid Cymru health spokesperson Elin Jones AM said the Welsh government's response to the RCN's concerns was a "disgrace" and that the health minister could not be allowed to "peddle a convenient myth" that she is not responsible for the NHS in Wales.

"The RCN has raised legitimate concerns about the safety of patients within the NHS, and it is the Welsh health minister's job to address those concerns directly," she added.

In a statement, the Welsh government reiterated that responsibility for planning and delivering healthcare remained with health boards.

It said they had to ensure that it was "safe and sustainable".

The government denied that it was cutting the health budget, and said that there would be a 2.3% increase in cash terms during 2012-13.

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