Nursing and patient safety campaigners lobbied MPs last week about the “vital need” for safe registered nurse staff levels on hospital wards across the UK.
At an event in the Commons, the Safe Staffing Alliance promoted its call for a new “fundamental standard” of at least one registered nurse to every eight patients on acute wards.
The alliance, which was formed in summer 2012, says the 1:8 figure is based on research findings and believes that “under no circumstances” should staffing be allowed to fall below that level.
The group includes the Royal College of Nursing, Unison, the Florence Nightingale Foundation and a range of other stakeholder organisations such as the Patients Association.
The parliament event was hosted by Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for West Cornwall and Scilly.
Mr George, a member of the Commons’ health select committee member, said he did not want to “see another Mid Staffs situation”, in reference to the high profile care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.
He claimed ministers were “denying that staffing levels are a key issue” and “had made clear their opposition to the introduction of any benchmark standards”.
Mr George said: “Even if ministers achieve the best culture and most charismatic leadership on our wards, if there aren’t enough registered nurses patient safety will still be compromised.
“It’s time to recognise the fundamental standards that are needed to secure patient safety,” he added.”
In a speech, Florence Nightingale Foundation chief Executive Elizabeth Robb said: “We have evidence from other countries that we need safe staffing levels – but we also have it in this country.
“We have been misquoted as saying we want 8:1, eight is the minimum number – the number at which we know under that, harm starts to occur,” she said.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, asked Mr George to put safe staffing at the top of the health select committee’s agenda.
Meanwhile, Jane Ball, deputy director of the National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College London, restated that there was “lots of evidence” that patient care suffered at ratios higher than 1:8.
The government has previously rejected introducing a mandatory minimum ratio for qualified nurses to patients, arguing that setting a minimum could lead to a “drive to the bottom”. Instead, it has favoured leaving decisions on staffing to local trusts.
In March ministers said the Care Quality Commission would in future be specifically checking that staff levels were safe during inspections, which has resulted in a number of hard hitting reports from the regulator in recent months.
In addition, the government agreed to work with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence on developing evidence-based tools to ensure safe staffing levels on a specialty by specialty basis, as an alternative to a national mandatory ratio.
The move was recommended by the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust and also backed by a separate report for the government by US patient safety expert Professor Don Berwick.
But Nursing Times revealed in August that the work was yet to be “referred” to NICE by the Department of Health.
The issue of safe staffing is expected to feature in the government’s full response to the Francis report later this year.
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