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Minimum nurse-patient ratios urged by Unison


Ministers should roll out minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals, a union has said.

Unison called on the government to introduce minimum staffing levels to ensure safe patient care.

In the public inquiry report into the serious care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, inquiry chair Robert Francis QC said officials should consider the “benefits and value for money of possible staff-patient ratios”.

The union said the “life saving” initiative would provide a “safer, more caring environment” for patients and staff.

It made its comments after a poll of 1,500 nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants found that 45% were looking after eight or more patients on a typical shift.

Three-fifths of those surveyed said they did not have enough time to deliver safe, dignified and compassionate patient care.

And 85% said they support set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios.

“This survey exposes a health service under severe strain, where nurses are struggling to deliver the high levels of care that they set themselves on a daily basis,” said Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison.

“On this typical day many staff worked through their break and stayed after their shift - but this still did not give them enough time to complete all their tasks.

“The hidden voice in the survey must surely be that of the patient who is not getting the level of care they are entitled to expect.

“The government cannot escape its responsibilities to the NHS by pointing the finger at staff or managers. Trusts are not being given the finance they need to deliver a growing and complex health service that demands highly expensive equipment, high-tech treatment and costly drugs.

“Government cuts are making matters worse by reducing staff, including nurses, at a time when patient demand is growing. Introducing minimum nurse to patient ratios would provide a safety net of care, restore public confidence and show nursing staff they are respected and valued.”

Sue Covill, director of employment services at the NHS Employers organisation, said: “Every hospital has different demands on its services and we should be alert to the dangers of some ‘one size fits all’ approaches. We believe arbitrary national minimum staffing ratios would limit how hospitals could plan resources in a way that’s best for their patients.

“We are pleased that the government’s response to the Francis report supports our view that it is local NHS organisations which are best placed to take responsibility for minimum staffing levels and skill mix.”

The survey results were released ahead of the union’s annual health conference in Glasgow next week.

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Readers' comments (19)

  • Having the correct staff-patient ratios means having the right number of the right staff - not having a 'floating' supernumerary manager as part of the numbers, not having an agency nurse who cannot do medication, IVs or look after acutely sick patients, not having a 'co-ordinator' who hasn't the time to look after anyone because they get tied up with everything else.

    It is not just a paper exercise, looks good and ticks the boxes if we have 4 on but in reality only 2 are in a position to look after patients.

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  • This will never happen, they'd have to spend money on wages then!

    Let's face it, this is what it boils down to. Not patient care.

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  • Australian nurses were willing to strike for this... will we? And will our unions back us?

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  • Will we back the unions?

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  • what do you think when 8 or 10 Neurologicall ill male patients are allocated for 1 nurse and 1 HCA,all of them are fully depended and need 2 hourly turning and 1 0r 2 patients are GCS of 8-10 to monitor closely,can this nurse give attention to give safe care to all of the other 9 patients?Helpless HCA how to co-op this stress nurse put pressure saying do that do this without failling a single minute free without having concern to find ot whether HCA has had any break or eaten you think these patients are can be handle by one HCA,Nurse is always busy with poorly ill patient and medication and paper work,What a safe care patients receive,this is a serious situation need to be corrected before the staff whom you FLEE

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  • which NHS is Sue Covill looking at? all hospitals and community services are under pressure. In any case there is a maximum amount of work and number of patients any nurse can safely cope with. Where i work its one RN to 15 all acute eldery medical patients. it just got alot worse with outbreak of D&V on top of everything else

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  • To all those who lack confidence in our ability to campaign for safe staffing levels and win, I say look to other parts of the world where nurses have achieved this. Yes, this has had to be fought for and it does need strong unions and a mobilised membership, but are we really any different from nurses in Australia and the US? If you are in a union, work for it. If you are not in a union, ask yourself why not? I'm sure my union, unison, would welcome you on board with this campaign. It will be difficult, especially in this time of austerity. But surely we can produce a persuasive campaign right now, when nursing care is prominent in the news. And remember, the economy will not always be in the doldrums and we won't always have this government. Of course, those two factors are clearly linked.

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  • Mick I admire your sentiment but I'm afraid I don't share your optimism.

    "but are we really any different from nurses in Australia and the US?"

    Yes, they have a backbone and a fighting spirit. British nurses don't and are happy to be walked over and shat on from a great height.

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  • Disgusting that we have to 'fight' or go on strike just to get a decent amount of staff so that patients can be cared for properly.
    This should not even be up for debate.
    There is enough evidence to prove that more trained nurses = better patient outcome, how much more 'evidence' does the govt need?
    We think things are bad now, god help us when we get old and need to go to hospital.

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  • Anon 10.59
    Well said. If the pearl-necklaced cardiganistas of the RCN congress weren't stuck in the 50's perhaps we too could strike.
    CaMoron and the cry-baby Osbourne ain't got the cojones that the wicked witch had ( rust in pieces, the lady's not returning), and we must act to prevent the destruction of the NHS before the next election.

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