A NURSES’ union has warned that North-East NHS staff are experiencing increasing levels of stress as Government cuts begin to bite.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Northern Region was responding to a national survey of NHS staff by the Care Quality Commission.

While staff still feel they can make a difference to patients, the RCN said cracks are beginning to show and stress levels are increasing.

The RCN also expressed concern that some of the region’s trusts are seeing above national average reports of staff being on the receiving end of harassment, bullying and abuse from patients, their relatives and the public.

A sample of results showed that in NHS Darlington, the percentage of staff suffering work-related stress in the past 12 months was 37 per cent, seven points higher than the national average score.

At Middlesbrough Primary Care Trust the trust scored 3.13 out of five for work pressure felt by staff, as opposed to 2.89 nationally.

In County Durham Primary Care Trust, the proportion of staff saying they intended to leave their job went up from 2.46 to 3.2 out of five between 2009 and 2010, while staff recommending the trust as a place to work or receive treatment declined from a score of 3.63 out of five in 2009 to 3.15 last year.

An RCN Northern spokesman said: “The reality is that, as the Government’s cuts to the NHS begin to bite, we are starting to see the effects on the quality of the service. It is of particular concern that this survey shows that nurses in some of our region’s trusts are reporting significant increases in work pressure and that these pressures are measured at levels above the national average for the NHS.

“However, it’s not surprising that, given the pressure that the service is under to make £20bn in cuts over the next couple of years, front-line staff are starting to feel the strain.”

The spokesman said NHS employers needed to pursue a “zero tolerance approach”

to violence against staff and work closely with the police.

A spokesperson for NHS North East said: “We recognise that the NHS is facing a period of significant change and are committed to making sure staff feel supported as we face the challenge ahead".