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MPs lobbied on safe staffing levels for NHS hospitals

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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Readers' comments (4)

  • Yes lets have "safe" staffing !

    The recruitment drives are under way !

    First port of call Europe and then the Third World !

    Just one small problem English is the language used in the UK not Swahili , Hindu,Tagalog or Romanian !

    When will the clown managers learn ?

    No point in being "surprised " the idiots have had many warnings BUT there are non so deaf as those who do not wish to hear !

    Do not worry !

    The pigs will be lining up at the trough for "bonus" payments (That includes the useless Directors of Nursing)

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • I'd be quite happy with 1:8 as usually I work 1:12 or sometimes 1:24! I doubt it will happen.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • I work with 1 carer to care for 8 patients.
    As the patients are very acute and also dependant I should safely have two carers working with me. I have to help the 1 carer with all 8 for basic care, however the carer is unable to help me with my specific jobs. If I had 2 carers help, I can then get all my jobs done in a timely manner and not have to stay back to write up notes.
    I disagree wih having a blanket ratio, I feel it is more important to have a national intelligent tool for measuring correct staffing levels.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • i used to work on a thoracic surgery ward on 1;18 nurse patient ratio,looking after patients on PCA,epidurals and chest drains...sad to say the situation is still the same...
    it was a humanly impossible task.

    we should have, all the MP's and director of nursing and NMC shadow a band -5 nurse on ward for a full shift for atleast a day shift and night shift and then write a report , about safe staffing levels.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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