Understaffed Hospital Wards ‘Putting Lives At Risk’

Understaffed Hospital Wards ‘Putting Lives At Risk’

A new inquiry into staffing levels in NHS hospitals in England, published by the University of Southampton, has revealed that wards are still understaffed and lives of patients are now being put at risk.

This is in spite of the fact that new policies were recently introduced as a result of the 2013 Mid-Staffordshire Inquiry, which revealed failings in care between 2005 and 2009.

Analysis of national workforce data has now shown that although the total number of nursing staff in acute care has increased since 2013, concurrent growth in the number of admissions has mean that no net improvement on registered nurse staffing levels.

An increase in nursing support staff like healthcare assistants that’s three times greater than for registered nurses, which is resulting in a dilution of skill levels in acute care.

The new national policies, which included the rollout of NICE guidelines on safe staffing for acute hospital wards, haven’t resulted in significant improvements on the hospital wards, professor Jane Ball – research fellow at the University of Southampton – said.

The university’s study found that hospitals now face big challenges when it comes to recruiting and retaining registered nurses, with the average vacancy rate reported at being ten per cent across the country – and some Trusts even seeing rates as high as 20 per cent.

Professor Ball commented on the findings, saying: “One of the biggest challenges has been the national shortage of registered nurses. The ongoing national shortage of registered nurses and failure to increase supply efficiently has not been addressed.

“This failure has prevented safe staffing levels from being achieved. NICE identified a ratio of eight patients per registered nurse 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.”

Back in 2016, the university published similar research revealing that replacing qualified nurses with lower skilled assistants is associated with an elevated risk of patient death, as well as other indicators of poor quality care.

For every 25 patients, the substitution of just one professional nurse was linked to a 21 per cent rise in the chances of dying in a hospital, given average nurse staffing levels and skill mix at the time.

Hospitals are being forced to review their nursing skill mix because of staff shortages, healthcare reforms and financial pressures – and this is true for countries all over the world. In England, the nursing skill mix varies from 79 per cent of registered nurses to 47 per cent, with an average of 57 per cent – which is actually one of the lowest in Europe.

Chair of health services research at the university and co-author of the report Peter Griffiths said at the time that the study suggests the NHS should prioritise achieving safe staffing levels among registered nurses, in order to achieve better outcomes – which includes improving satisfaction among patients with regards to their care.

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