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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