Nurse shortages leave people dying in pain, charity warns

One in three nurses, responding to a survey by the charity and Nursing Standard, say a lack of staff is the main challenge providing quality care to dying people. More than half of the nurses said they feel the standard of care has deteriorated during the coronavirus pandemic.

People are dying at home without the correct nursing support or pain relief because of staff shortages, according to the end-of-life charity Marie Curie.

Some 548 nursing staff across acute and community settings in the UK completed the survey in September.

They raise concerns about the increased number of people dying at home and insufficient numbers of community nurses to support these people and their families.

There have been more than 74,005 excess deaths in private homes in England and Wales since the start of the pandemic, according to analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Just 12 per cent of these were deaths involving coronavirus.

Excess deaths are the number of deaths above the average for the corresponding period in the non-pandemic years of 2015-19.

One nurse who responded to the survey said: “If more people are dying at home then there is a huge pressure on local district nursing teams which struggle with staffing as it is.”

Julie Pearce, chief nurse and executive director of quality and caring services at Marie Curie, said: “The pandemic has accelerated change across many care settings.

“More people are dying at home and staffing to support this shift isn’t there.

“The data shows a hidden crisis happening behind closed doors and people dying without access to pain relief or the dignity they deserve.

“As a charity, we are urging MPs to support calls for an amendment to the Health and Care Bill to create a legal duty to commission palliative care services in every part of England.”

The survey also suggests that healthcare professionals have grown in confidence over initiating conversations about end-of-life care needs with patients and families, which Ms Pearce called “promising”.

Flavia Munn, editor at Nursing Standard, said: “Nurses want to do their very best and support people who wish to die at home but there simply aren’t enough of them.

“The pandemic has highlighted many extraordinarily difficult decisions facing nurses over end-of-life care, choosing which patient to prioritise is one heart-breaking example.

“Being able to make a person comfortable in their final days and hours and reduce the burden on their loved ones is of paramount importance.

“Ministers must pay attention to the human impact of chronic nursing staff shortages on patients, families – and the profession itself.”

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