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MORALE among nurses has plunged to a new low and i s threatening a staffing crisis in Scotland's hospitals, according to the results of a major new survey today.

Researchers found one in three nurses would leave the profession i f they could because of widespread depression about pay and working conditions.

More than half of all nurses worked more than their contracted hours every week, the survey found, and nine out of ten felt they were poorly paid.

The disturbing findings from the Institute of Employment Studies, for the Royal College of Nursing, were seized on by opposition politicians and nurses' leaders who demanded urgent action by the Scottish Executive.

Unions and organisations representing nurses have just submitted pay demands for next year and expect a response from the independent pay review body by the end of January.

Nurses' leaders hope the survey results will put extra pressure on Ministers to deliver a good deal and they have called for a substantial increase for experienced nurses to stop them leaving the profession.

They hope that a pay rise will halt the dropout rate and relieve the pressure on staff who remain, particularly at peak demand during winter months.

Scottish Executive spokesman, however, insisted a package of measures was being put in place to improve nurses' conditions and that Ministers were determined to ensure nurses were appreciated.

The spokesman said the Executive had set out its plans to increase the number of nurses in Scotland back in May, including proposals to develop education and training. 'We are committed to working with nurses to unlock their potential,' he said.

He stressed: 'The Scottish Executive is committed to fair pay for nurses.'

Last year Ministers in London found the resources to fund an inflation-busting 11 per cent rise for newly-qualified nurses, to attract more into the service, and 4 per cent for other staff.

Now nurses leaders want a similar rise for experienced nurses.

Nurses pay is now comparable with teachers and social workers at the bottom end of the scale but there is still a huge gap in wages between senior nurses and the levels earned by experienced teachers.

Nurses entering the profession with no experience earn about [pounds sterling]14,000, the same as a newly qualified teacher but the pay scale for teachers means a much more rapid rise in wages.

The average experienced teacher earns about [pounds sterling]21,000, while their equivalent in nursing would probably earn only [pounds sterling]15,000 or [pounds sterling]16,000. …