The Royal College of Nursing has revealed that nurses fear being taken to court over the level of care they give to patients.
The RCN, one of the two unions to turn down the recent Government pay offer to NHS staff, has revealed nurses are concerned about patient safety and even fear court cases being brought against them for treating patients in corridors.
More than 500 specialist A&E nurses in the RCN’s emergency care association shared their experiences of overcrowded hospitals before its annual congress in Brighton which begins on Monday.
It says more than nine in 10 raised concerns that patients may be receiving unsafe care and that patient dignity, privacy and confidentiality is compromised.
The RCN says six in 10 fear they will be struck off the nursing register or have a court case brought against them as a result of patient harm due to their working conditions.
Some nurses described themselves as “broken” and feeling “suicidal”, with corridor treatment being deemed “degrading for patients”.
Before the congress, one emergency care nurse said: “Caring for patients in corridors is destroying staff morale.
“When you walk into the department and see 15-20 people in the queue, day in day out – you lose any hope it’s going to be a good shift.
“We care for patients the best we can, but something happens every day. I’ve dealt with almost every situation I can imagine in the queue.
“We’ve had to fit call bells and crash buzzers after people have had cardiac arrests in a corridor. Patients who are incontinent need pads changing but there’s no space or privacy to change them.
“Patients and their relatives can sometimes be physically or verbally aggressive towards us because they are rightly scared and horrified about the setting they are being treated in – some are then arrested or removed by security. There are delays to medication. The list goes on.
“Having to care for patients in this way makes you feel you are a terrible nurse. Sadly I have become desensitised to it as I’ve been dealing with it for so long.
“But unless something is done we will continue to lose brilliant nurses who are getting to breaking point.”
Nurses and doctors find themselves unable to discharge patients due to the lack of community care in place, the RCN says.
Bed capacity is also deemed to be at a dangerous level.
The RCN general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, said: “This bleak picture comes from right across the NHS.
“Patients backed-up through emergency departments is a stark sign of a health and care system grinding to a halt. A corridor is no place to die and no place to work either.
“When ministers fail to grip this situation, they allow patients to pay a high price and nursing staff to work in fear, professionally compromised.
“Governments must urgently plan and invest to reverse this new trend.
“Our members have told us they’re so concerned about patient safety being compromised that they are fearing court cases against them.
“While any decision around a court case would take into context the particular pressures that a nurse is working within, these fears are evidence of just how unsafe conditions have become.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Everyone deserves access to the right care in the right place.
“That is why we are taking action to cut waiting lists, making it easier for patients to access a GP and have almost reached our target of delivering 26,000 additional primary care staff.
“Our Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan will also mean people are seen quicker as we scale up community teams, expand virtual wards, and put 800 new ambulances on the road.
“We know that if we are to build a stronger NHS it is vital to have the workforce to support it – and their health and wellbeing is of paramount importance. To ease the pressures on healthcare staff, the NHS will soon publish a long-term workforce plan to support and grow the workforce.”