A group campaigning for the introduction of a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio is calling on nurses to set up a network of forums to monitor local staffing issues.
Speaking at a meeting in Brighton on Tuesday, the Four-to-One group said it wanted to “lead” nurses who wished to take action about low staffing levels.
As reported by Nursing Times last June, the group is calling for a minimum of one registered nurse per four patients, which they claim is the minimum needed for safe patient care.
A protest march on the issue is also being planned by the nurses, which they hope will take place in the autumn.
“It’s time to do not what we can afford, or what might be safe, but what patients need,” said campaign founder Mark Boothroyd, a staff nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital in London.
“I’d like nurses to come together, and have their own trust nursing forum to tackle issues of understaffing locally”
The group claims 4:1 is the ideal mandatory minimum to be able to give 02.48 hours per patient per shift.
It claims the current average – 9:1 on an NHS medical ward according to research from 2009 – means patients only get seen for 01.12 hours per patient per shift. This results in a 20% higher mortality rate, 22% higher job dissatisfaction and 34% higher burnout rate.
But Mr Boothroyd said a ratio of 14:1 was quite frequent in the NHS. This meant 48 minutes per patient per shift, which equates to a 26% higher mortality rate and 71% higher job dissatisfaction and 78% higher burnout rate.
The campaign group consists of eight nurses and student nurses from different unions, who are based predominantly in London. They aim to encourage nurses and trusts to get involved.
“The short term goal is to get some activists meetings going in London and other local activists’ meetings,” Mr Boothroyd told the meeting.
“I’d like nurses to come together, and have their own trust nursing forum to tackle issues of understaffing locally,” he said.
Nurses want to raise concerns, but cannot because they feel “isolated and afraid”, he said, adding that the campaign aimed to “empower” them and “create a movement out of them”.
The group also wants nurses to form nurse forums within their trusts to bring concerns to their managers as a group, instead of as individuals, so they will feel “less intimidated”.
“Nurses feel they don’t have a voice on their ward – so a nursing meeting forum is a safe space to raise issues and take them to management,” said Mr Boothroyd.
He also urged them to keep an audit of all the unpaid overtime nurses did, which could be shown to their managers. “Nurses do a million hours of extra over time a week collectively and only 10% of nurses get reimbursed for this,” he said.
Mr Boothroyd dismissed the idea that 4:1 minimum mandatory staffing level was unaffordable. Such claims, he said, were based on “bad math” and that it would be affordable if the government did not “waste” money on maintaining an internal market and private finance initiatives.
The 4:1 campaign is already supported by the union Unite, and the group has submitted a motion to call on the Royal College of Nursing to support it at its congress in June. However, Unison, which held its annual health conference in Brighton last week, has said it cannot “endorse” the campaign at present.
Mr Boothroyd said: “There is so much potential out there for people who want to create an NHS that is better and are not organised and we are going to do it.”
Roger Kline, from whistleblowing group Patients First, also addressed the meeting.
He told delegates it was part of their code to raise concerns. If you go along with working in under-resourced units or wards, “you are violating duty of care” and “will be seen to be complicit” in the decision, he claimed.
Mr Kline also claimed that both the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s code and duty of care demanded that registrants did not work in conditions that put their patients at risk.