Nurse staffing levels putting lives at risk

A new report has warned that hospital wards across the NHS in England remain under staffed and putting patient lives at risk.

Published by the University of Southampton, the research claims that new workforce guidelines have not led to significant improvements on hospital wards, despite the 2013 inquiry into the failings in care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust between 2005 and 2009.

Implementation, Impact and Costs of Policies for Safe Staffing in Acute NHS Trusts has said that hospitals are facing major challenges in recruiting and retaining registered nurses (RNs) with an average RN vacancy rate reported at 10 per cent across the country, with rates as high as 20 per cent in some trusts.

The study found that the initially strong policy response to the Inquiry - to put patients first and foremost and to never let the failings found in Mid Staffordshire happen again – had become more muted. The university notes that, for every 25 patients, substituting just one nurse with a lower qualified member of staff was linked with a 21 per cent rise in the odds of patients dying.

Jane Ball, research fellow at University of Southampton and lead author of the study, said: “One of the biggest challenges has been the national shortage of RNs. The ongoing national shortage of RNs, and failure to increase supply sufficiently, has not been addressed. This failure has prevented safe staffing levels from being achieved. NICE identified a ratio of eight patients per RN as a level that threatens patient safety. But in our survey of directors of nursing, one in four reported wards were routinely running with this high-risk level.”

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