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Minimum nurse to patient ratios cut death rates

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A major US study has added further weight to the argument that setting minimum nurse to patient ratios saves lives.

The US state of California introduced a minimum ratio of five patients per nurse on medical and surgical wards in 2005.

Researchers compared staffing and outcome data from California with two other states – New Jersey and Pennsylvania – that have no set nurse to patient ratios. The two year study looked at patient mortality within 30 days of surgery and survey data on staffing levels from 22,236 nurses. They concluded at least 10 per cent fewer patients would have died in New Jersey and Pennsylvania if they had minimum ratios. 

Lead author Linda Aiken, director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania school of nursing, said nurses were the first to detect the majority of complications and medication errors in patients.

“Nurses are the main surveillance system in hospitals,” she said in the journal Health Services Research.

The US study follows research by Dr Foster Intelligence, published last year by Nursing Times, which showed that the more nurses a trust employed per bed the fewer of its patients were likely to die or experience long stays.

A 2006 piece of research, carried out by the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery at King’s College London, found surgical ward mortality was 26 per cent higher in trusts with the lowest nurse patient ratios compared to those with the highest.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • It is high time the united kingdom also had nurse to patient ratios. From my expereience in NHS hospitals across the country it is usually 1 nurse to 7 for an early shift or 1 nurse to 13 patients for a late shift. In nursing homes it is usually 1 nurse to 25 patients which is unacceptable. Not to mention 1 nursing home I worked in which justified 1 nurse to 47 patients you can imagine the notes and the drug round.If 1 patient deteriorates the nurse's time is consumed by that 1 patient and nurses find themselves falling behind with medication rounds, monitoring vital signs etc for the other patients on the ward. I remember recently where I was begged to assist a 30 bedded ward in the NHS where ony 1 nurse amd 1 care assistant were on duty. We had IVantibiotics, injections, analgesia to administer via infusion pumps besides the drug round itself. There were blood transfusions, monitoring of vital signs, taking patients to the toilet whilst trying to do the other 101 things on the ward. It was clearly risky. I had a headache at the end of the shift and I knew this was putting nurses pin numbers at risk. We try our best with limited resources but are penalised when charts are not up to date or someone's incontinent pad has not been changed etc.

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