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Nurse understaffing putting patients at risk

Friday 19th April 2019
Hospital wards are still understaffed to the extent that patients are being put in danger, despite the Francis Report raising this as a clear issue.
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It has been more than six years since the Francis Report was published, in which the dangers of understaffing in hospital wards - among other issues - were raised. However, a troubling study from the University of Southampton has recently found that many hospitals across the NHS are still operating with nurse staffing levels so low that patient lives are at risk.

The research, entitled ‘Implementation, Impact and Costs of Policies for Safe Staffing in Acute NHS Trusts’, found that the average registered nurse (RN) vacancy rate across the country is around ten per cent. This suggests that NHS trusts are having significant problems attracting and retaining nurses, with some seeing vacancy rates as high as 20 per cent.

Workforce statistics show that while the number of RNs employed in acute care since the publication of the Francis Report has increased, it has not done so at a rate to match the increase in the number of patients that has also occurred.

The lack of RNs severely impacts a hospital’s ability to provide adequate care for its patients. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) produced guidelines in 2014 that detailed what counted as under-staffing, and how to prevent it. However, it seems that these aren’t being properly followed.

For example, NICE guidelines state that a ratio of eight or more patients per RN is dangerous and compromises patient safety. However, the University of Southampton study found that approximately 25 per cent of wards were routinely running with this level of staffing.

Patricia Marquis, director of the Royal College of Nursing England, said: “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 one in five posts vacant, according to this report.

“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.”

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