Financial hardship making nurses reconsider career

More than half of nurses in Scotland have considered leaving the profession due to cost-of-living pressures, a new survey has revealed.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Scotland today published the results of a survey of more than 1,000 of its members, which laid bare how financial hardship is impacting the wellbeing of the nursing profession.

“We believe there are solutions but they require investment now”

Colin Poolman

The survey, carried out in January 2024, found that 75% of respondents said they were financially worse off compared to 12 months ago.

Some 38% reported that they were “just about able to meet essential living costs”, while 22% said they were struggling and were increasingly worried about their financial situation.

RCN members shared some of the cost saving measures they had taken in the last 12 months.

Some 60% reported that they had used credit or savings for essential living costs, while 31% said they had borrowed money from family or friends.

Concerningly, 23% of respondents said they had gone without food or skipped meals to try and cut down on living costs.

The survey revealed the stark impact that the cost-of-living crisis was having on nurses’ wellbeing, with 91% of respondents reporting that financial concerns had some impact on their mental health. Of those, 36% reported that the impact was considerable or very considerable.

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Meanwhile, 49% of respondents said that, in the next five years, it was likely or very likely that they would leave nursing altogether.

In addition, of the 62% of respondents who had thought about changing their current role due to cost-of-living pressures, 60% said they had considered leaving nursing altogether.

The survey results come as MSPs prepare to debate the Scottish budget in parliament later this week, amid a backdrop where health and care services are having to make savings.

The RCN warned that health boards were already being asked to make budget cuts, including recruitment freezes, which were “causing nursing staff serious concern”.

RCN Scotland said in its budget briefing that it was disappointed that the budget was “light on detail” on how the Scottish Government intended to address the nursing workforce crisis.

The union has called on the Scottish Government to implement recommendations for reform of the Agenda for Change contract, which were agreed between health unions, NHS employers and Scottish Government officials last year.

The recommendations include proposals for a reduced working week, protected time for learning and for a review of band 5 nursing roles.

In addition, the RCN has called on the Scottish Government to provide further funding for any policy recommendations that may come from the Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce.

It comes as the taskforce, which was established last year, is set to deliver actions that tackle key issues in nursing recruitment and retention in Scotland.

Meanwhile, the union has also urged for the financial support package available for nursing students to be improved, to help those currently in training to stay on their course and attract the next generation of students.

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RCN Scotland director Colin Poolman said the survey results were “really concerning”.

Addressing nurses, he said: “At the same time as you are trying to hold together services under extreme pressure and provide high quality care, you are struggling to stay afloat financially.”

Mr Poolman noted that, since the Covid-19 pandemic, Scotland had seen “growing numbers of staff quitting nursing” and that the survey showed that those numbers “could rise even more steeply”.

Colin Poolman

He added: “While budgets are tight right now, this is not the time to be pulling resources from the nursing workforce.

“We believe there are solutions but they require investment now.”

Responding, a Scottish Government spokesperson said it had had “meaningful engagement with trade unions” over the last two years which had resulted in nurses in Scotland being the best paid nurses in the UK.

In addition, the spokesperson highlighted that Scotland had the “highest non-repayable” bursary support in the UK for eligible nursing and midwifery students, as well as reimbursement of expenses and a range of allowances.

The spokesperson added: “However, we are working closely with key partners, including the RCN, as part of the Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce to explore what more can be done to attract and retain more people into nursing and midwifery, and will recommend a workplan of actions to support longer-term workforce sustainability in due course.

“The health secretary is meeting with trade unions this month to discuss the outcome of the Agenda for Change review.”

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