The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) claims UK nursing staff are under such pressure that six out of 10 say they cannot provide the level of care they want to.
The annual survey also shows that barely a quarter of the nurses who responded think their pay is appropriate for the level of responsibility and stress they face at work.
Three in 10 say they have even suffered physical abuse from patients or their relatives, in the past 12 months.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of RCN, said: “The findings lay bare the serious consequences for both patients and nurses of the huge number of vacant nursing posts across the UK, with 43,000 vacancies in the NHS in England alone.”
“Yet failure to increase nurse numbers isn’t inevitable, but a political choice. We need proper financial help for nursing students in every nation of the UK in order to ensure the supply of nurses in the future, and clear legal duties for governments and NHS leaders across the UK to ensure there are enough nurses to provide safe care to patients.”
With the general election only two weeks away, Kinnair added the survey should be “required reading for all politicians”.
However, recent figures from universities application body UCAS shows that the number of nursing applicants has risen by 6.7% across the UK, ending a decline that began when the government scrapped bursaries for student nurses in 2017.
But unions say the numbers are still “nowhere near” enough to end the staffing crisis facing the nursing sector.
The latest UCAS figures show there were 54,225 applications to study nursing in 2019, compared to 50,805 applications last year. Nonetheless, the numbers are still lower than 2016 when 66,730 applied.