Wards routinely operating on unsafe nurse staffing levels, warns study

The number of registered nurses has been heavily linked to patient mortality rates.

Matt Bodell
16 April 2019
Patient in hospital bed

Figures suggest that NHS trusts are bolstering staffing numbers by increasing the recruitment of healthcare assistants.

Organisations throughout the NHS remain understaffed and are putting patient lives at risk despite recommendations from the Mid Staffordshire Enquiry and Francis Report, claim researchers.

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Academics from the universities of Southampton and Bangor have today published their 224-page findings after a two-year research project called Implementation, Impact and Costs of Policies for Safe Staffing in Acute NHS Trusts.

The study findings suggest that while the principle of ‘safe staffing’ has been embedded into nursing culture, the supply of registered nurses has not matched increases in demand and there has been a “downward shift in skill mix”.

Figures included within the research also suggest that healthcare assistants are being used to increase staffing numbers when an area is short of registered nurses.

The research concluded that patients are routinely being cared for in wards that are unsure due to a chronic lack of registered nurses.

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A separate study previously highlighted that having more registered nurse on a ward is associated with lower mortality rates and better clinical outcomes for patients. 

‘Mid Staffs lessons have been quickly forgotten’.

Patricia Marquis, RCN Director for England, said: “Mid Staffordshire showed us the dire consequences of nurse shortages and yet those precious lessons have been forgotten so quickly. It will trouble patients and the public today to hear the experts warn again of the deadly risks being run and that some parts of the NHS have 1 in 5 posts vacant according to this report.

“Now that there are 40,000 unfilled nurse jobs in England, it is time for Ministers and the NHS to get a firm grip on the situation before it deteriorates further.  

“The legacy of the Francis Report was a once in a generation opportunity to increase nurse staffing levels across all health and care settings but any short-term progress in hospitals has fallen away. Rising patient numbers are outstripping small nurse increases.

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“The report is right to raise concerns around the increased numbers of support staff too – these increases must be matched by rises in registered nurses if we’re to keep the full and appropriate mix of skills in care settings.

“The Government should commit to a new law for England to provide accountability for staffing levels for safe and effective care, and provide an additional investment of at least £1 billion in nurse education to retain the existing workforce and train the next generation of nurses”.

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