Intensive care units across the country are reaching capacity with no additional staff to open new beds.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said it is increasing concerned about the safety of both patients and staff as intensive care units (ICUs) reach their maximum capacity.
It is recognised that nationally there are not enough critical care nurses to meet the current demand for Level 2 and Level 3 beds.
NHS England and NHS Improvement with Health Education England tackled this issue by providing guidance in December suspending the requirement for one-on-one nursing care within ICUs and diluting staffing in other critical care areas.
The guidance reads; “nurse to patient ratios could be maintained at a minimum of one trained critical care nurse for two level 3 patients, compared with the normal 1:1 ratio, supported by one other registered nurse”.
Within other critical care areas, such as high-dependency units, the guidance recommends “one trained critical care nurse for four level 2 patients, compared to the normal 1:2 ratio, supported by one registered health care professional”.
However, the union claims that nurse to patient ratios in ICU are being diluted more than this, and that ward areas are also significantly short staffed.
One intensive care nurse from London, who did not wish to be named, said; “Earlier this week I was working alongside another nurse, who usually works in an outpatients department, caring for three intubated patients – it is dangerous – how can I be expected to supervise another nurse and care for three patients simultaneously?”
RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “The safe ratio in intensive care units is one nurse to each patient. With every change to this ratio, the pressure on nursing staff increases and it becomes harder to provide care to patients.
“This is not safe practice, but it has become unavoidable in many hospitals. It is exacerbated by the severe shortage of nursing staff, which is not only affecting ICU but many wards packed with seriously ill patients where nurse to patient ratios are very high.
“We must see an urgent response from the government that addresses the chronic underfunding of nursing over many years.
“Nursing staff are already doing everything they can, but this is not sustainable. Many nurses and other health care staff are off sick which is making an intolerable situation even worse. Conditions are very difficult, and it is taking a toll on their physical and mental health.”
The UK Critical Care Nursing Alliance (UKCCNA), of which the RCN is a member, has now requested that departments of health in the four nations provide further guidance on how the evolving situation is to be managed.