Three of the most senior nurses in the NHS have warned the government against introducing minimum staffing levels, as the profession becomes increasingly divided over the issue ahead of the government’s response to the Francis report.
In a letter published in the Times today the three hospital directors of nursing say they “do not support Whitehall second-guessing what nursing levels should be for each hospital”.
The letter is signed by Eileen Sills of Guys and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust, Katherine Fenton of University College London Hospitals and Flo Panel Coates from Barking Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust.
It comes in response to calls from the Prime Minister’s Forum on Nursing and Care Quality for the government to introduce a minimum ratio immediately to “bridge the gap” while more detailed guidance is developed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
As revealed by Nursing Times on Saturday, the forum has urged the government to “take account” of the existing “evidence that a ratio of more than eight patients per registered nurse significantly increases the risk of harm and constitutes a breach in patient safety”.
The letter in the Times states: “On the eve of the government’s response to Robert Francis’s inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, we want to urge caution when it comes to mandating minimum staffing numbers and ratios.
“The right numbers of staff will vary depending on the sickness and dependency of the patients and the skill of the staff. It is not something that can be mandated for a whole country.”
The government is expected to publish its full response to the Francis report tomorrow. As revealed at the weekend, it will introduce a new criminal offence for healthcare staff found guilty of wilful neglect.
It is also expected to include new guidance on setting safe staffing levels – seen by Nursing Times – which says boards should review staffing levels at least twice a year.