New survey reveals 6 in 10 nurses in Scotland are either considering or actively planning to quit work


Reeling under tremendous pandemic pressure, 6 in 10 nurses in Scotland are either considering or actively planning to quit work, according to a new survey by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland.

The data come from the 2021 RCN employment survey, in which 1293 respondents working across NHS Health Boards, general practice, social care, agencies, and education settings in Scotland.

Intention to quit

The findings showed that 61% of the nursing staff surveyed were thinking of quitting their current job (including those planning to retire). Of this figure, 41% were considering leaving, while 20% were actively planning to leave. In a similar survey conducted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proportion of respondents thinking of quitting that year was 36%.

The primary reasons for considering or planning to leave the job were feeling undervalued (reported by 75%), understaffing (65%), excessive work pressure (64%), exhaustion (64%), and low salaries (54%).

A staff nurse at an NHS hospital in Scotland said: ‘I have mostly enjoyed my career and been proud of my work but now have been left feeling stressed, unappreciated, and vulnerable and my confidence has taken a massive hit so I’ve made the decision to take early retirement.’

Overworked and underpaid

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents reported regularly working beyond their contracted hours, with 54% not receiving additional pay for the extra hours. Only 64% of respondents could take the full entitlement of their annual leave. Among the nursing staff who responded, 72% reported having excessive work pressure and 67% said they were unable to deliver quality care as a result of being overworked.

‘Our area is overwhelmed and [we are] unable to provide safe and high standard of care to our patients. Queues of patients out the door. It feels like we are sinking in quick-sand, with no way out,’ said an advanced nurse practitioner at an NHS hospital.

Colin Poolman, Interim Director for RCN Scotland, said: ‘We simply cannot afford to expect nursing staff in health and care settings to carry on working understaffed and poorly paid.’

Importantly, the survey was conducted before the Omicron wave hit the UK and the current situation of the nursing staff is likely to be worse.

Both health and social care sector hit

The latest workforce statistics reveal more than 5000 nursing and midwifery vacancies across NHS hospitals in Scotland in addition to several vacancies for registered nurses in the social care sector.

Donald Macaskill, Chief Executive Officer of Scottish Care, which represents the independent social care sector in Scotland, wrote in a tweet: ‘A deeply concerning report from RCN Scotland—the situation for social care nurses in Scotland is equally severe—urgent need for focused support for all nurses at this time. Care home nursing needs respect and attention.’

RCN Scotland has urged the Scottish Government to take urgent measures to prevent the imminent exodus of nursing staff in health and social care.

‘We are calling on the Scottish Government to address both poor staffing levels and low pay as a priority in the budget. The Scottish Government must commit significant additional funding to provide and support a sustainable workforce, as well as the implementation of safe staffing legislation,’ Mr Poolman added.

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


Lead image: Kawee/

Image 1: Kawee/