NURSES across Scotland are at "breaking point", union leaders warned, after a new survey found almost three quarters feel worse off financially then they did five years ago.

A poll carried out by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union found that 61 per cent of nurses said they were too busy to deliver the level of care they want.

The survey, which is carried out every two years, drew responses from 800 nurses in Scotland among a total of 7,720 UK-wide.

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Three quarters of nurses reported feeling financially worse off than they did five years ago and 40 per cent said money worries were causing them to lose sleep. More than one in three said they were looking for a new job.

The RCN published the figures ahead of this week's Scottish Budget, to highlight the impact that the "prolonged" public sector pay freeze has had on morale in the profession.

HeraldScotland: Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland

Theresa Fyffe, Director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland, said: "For too long the concerns of Scotland’s nursing teams have been ignored, and nurses have been suggesting they don’t have the resources to fulfil their jobs properly. The Scottish Government must fulfil its commitment to raise living standards and aid recruitment by confirming an above inflation pay award for hard-pressed nursing staff in the budget.

“It shouldn’t be the case that nurses and health care support workers are taking on a second job, or leaving a job that they love because they are struggling to make ends meet.

“The survey’s findings should fire a warning shot across the bows, for the Scottish Government our nursing workforce is at breaking point."

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A one per cent annual cap on public sector pay rises, including NHS staff, was introduced by then-Chancellor George Osborne in 2011/12, but the RCN warned that it has saddled nurses with a 14 per cent real terms pay cut.

In September, the Scottish Government pledged to scrap it from 2018/19, but has yet to confirm what the uplift will be for nurses and other frontline workers with UK inflation running at three per cent.

HeraldScotland: Nurse Julie Lamberth

Julie Lamberth, a maternity theatre nurse from Kilmarnock has gone from working 30 hours a week part-time five years ago to a full-time contract of 37.5 hours, but says she still feels worse off.

She said: "Food bills seem to go up every week. You go for petrol, it's gone up. My gas and electricity has gone up. Everything's gone up except our pay.

"If I get the opportunity to do extra hours, I do it. I hear other nurses talking about leaving altogether and some of them joke that we'd be better off going to Aldi because we'd get better pay."

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The latest statistics for Scotland show that the number of nurses and midwives is at a record high, and this year's intake of student nurses and midwives to universities is also the highest in seven years.

However, recruitment has been unable to keep pace with demand, with the number of vacancies - including posts empty for three months or more - up on last year. Factors such as an ageing workforce - with a fifth of nurses and midwives due to retire by 2026 - and the knock-on effect of cuts in student numbers during the credit crunch, have been blamed for the trend.

Ms Lamberth, who was one of five RCN members who handed a 'Scrap the Cap' petition in to Downing Street in October, said: "We're fortunate in my theatre that we've got the full complement of staff. But you feel the pressure of the workload increases. I feel for my colleagues in acute hospitals because of the pressures in emergency departments and the pressures to clear beds. It's immense, and they do struggle to fill vacant posts."

Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said the survey results "expose the challenges faced by hard-working NHS staff".

Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar added: "These figures should be setting off alarm bells ahead of the Scottish budget. We cannot expect our NHS to deliver the care Scots deserve if staff don't get the support they need."

Health Secretary Shona Robison, said: “A qualified nurse in Scotland is paid up to £312 more than counterparts in England and Wales, and all entry level support staff earn over £1,000 more than their counterparts in England.

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"However, with inflation rising, the Scottish Government recognises that the present pay restraint policy is unsustainable, which is why we were the first government in the UK to commit to lifting the one per cent pay cap.”