More hospital patients are reporting shortages of nursing staff on the wards, the latest national inpatient survey has revealed.

More than two in five patients – 42 per cent – said there were not always enough nurses on duty to take care of them, up from 40 per cent the previous year.

Fifty-eight per cent said there were “always” enough nurses, according to the survey of more than 70,000 people admitted to 161 acute and specialist trusts in England last summer.

Thirty-one per cent said there were enough nurses some of the time while 11 per cent reported there were “rarely or never enough nurses”.

At the same time the survey – co-ordinated by the Picker Institute Europe for the Care Quality Commission – highlighted shortcomings in basic care, including help with food.

Of patients who needed assistance, 38 per cent said they did not always get enough help from staff to eat their meals – up from 36 per cent in 2010.

“Fewer nurses are being asked to take on more work and the inpatient survey shows how this impacts on patients’ experiences,” said Picker Institute chief executive Penny Woods.

However, there were improvements in hospital cleanliness, staff hygiene and mixed-sex accommodation.

Overall, 78 per cent of patients rated the care they received as “very good” or “excellent” with just three per cent rating care as “poor” – almost no change since the previous year.

Eleven trusts performed “significantly worse than average” on scores for overall care while 13 were “significantly better than average”.

Other disappointing results included hospital food, with 2 per cent more patients rating it as “poor”. There was also a poorer rating relating to shortcomings in patients’ involvement in decisions and the information they received on leaving hospital.

The survey appeared to show an increase in waiting times with more patients – 14 per cent – reporting they had waited longer than six months between being referred to hospital and being admitted, compared to 12 per cent the previous year.

However, waiting times analyst Rob Findlay said the increase could be because of a drive to treat people who had been waiting for a long time.

The latest official figures show an increase in the number of people who have been waiting over 26 weeks being admitted to hospital.

“Treating people who have been waiting for a long time is a good thing but it does mean more show up in hospital to be surveyed,” explained Mr Findlay.