NHS spending cuts are likely to mean nurses come under pressure to move between wards more often, a nursing workforce expert has predicted.
He said results from across the country had shown around a third of wards were usually understaffed, one third about right and one third overstaffed.
It takes into consideration the seriousness of the condition of the patients on a ward.
The tool, which is now being rolled out across the country and made easier to use, will allow nurse leaders and managers to check their levels from day to day and ask staff to move. As it becomes harder for trusts to recruit, they hope it will help them ensure there are safe staffing levels in more areas.
Mr Hurst said: “We are bad at pooling and deploying nurses where work is needed. These are challenging times and that attitude has got to go.”
Areas such as elderly care are known to often be understaffed and paediatrics overstaffed, because it is considered a better place to work. It is known to be harder to recruit permanent staff into areas such as elderly wards.
Mr Hurst said: “If you are a clinical manager or a doctor and you have your results [showing recommended staff levels] for that day, you have the opportunity to pick up the phone and send two staff from one ward to another. That ought to be how you should work.”
It will also be used to plan recruitment to different areas.
The tool is now being developed by the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement and is part of the Energise for Excellence programme, led by the strategic health authority chief nurses (news, 16 February, page 4).