PATIENT care is being compromised due to shortages of nurses and support staff, according to Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members across the North-East and Cumbria.

A survey of more than 30,000 nursing staff across the UK - including 1,156 in the region - asked about staffing levels on their most recent shift and the quality of care provided.

And 54 per cent of respondents in the region, including those in Cumbria, County Durham, Northumbria, Tees Valley, and Tyne and Wear, reported a shortfall of one or more registered nurses on their last shift; and 39 per cent reported a shortfall of one or more health care support workers.

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Accident and emergency departments had the lowest quality ratings of all hospital services, with one in seven A&E nurses rating care as poor or very poor.

Almost half of all respondents said no action was taken when they raised concerns about staffing levels.

The survey was carried out in May and suggests that pressures previously associated with the winter months have become common throughout the year.

The findings come after the the Nursing and Midwifery Council warned nursing was shrinking as more people were leaving than joining the profession. It is expected that one in three nurses will retire in the next ten years.

The RCN is calling on the boards of health and social care providers across the UK to urgently review nurse staffing levels, give public assurances on patient safety and take action where standards are not met.

Peta Clark, operational manager for RCN Northern region, said: “The survey underlines the fact that NHS trusts continue to struggle to retain and recruit valuable nursing staff."

"Despite regular recruitment campaigns in the UK and Europe, more and more nurses are leaving the profession.

"They are being forced out by ever increasing stress and pressure of the role, whilst their pay has been capped. Nurses have seen their salaries drop by 14 per cent in real terms over the last seven years and some face the very real prospect of leaving the job they love in order to pay the rent.

“Sadly, it is also becoming harder to attract people into the profession with the lack of a bursary becoming a barrier to many signing up. Since the Government announced the withdrawal of student funding for would-be nurses, there has been a reported 20 per cent drop in applications for graduate nursing courses.

“Improving staff morale and pay is the key to solving the staffing crisis facing nursing. RCN members will continue to campaign for new laws on staffing and fairer pay.”

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “When this many professionals blow the whistle, they cannot be overlooked.

"The nursing shortage is biting hard and needs the attention of ministers - this warning comes from the very people they cannot afford to lose.

“The findings in this report are a direct result of years of poor planning and cost-cutting - it was entirely predictable.

“Nursing staff are revealing desperately sad experiences and their honesty must drive forward the policy debate.

"We urgently need assurances from every health and care provider that services are safe for patients, and new laws on staffing should follow swiftly.”