The news that the Francis Report is having an impact on staffing levels is fantastic. That this extensive report is making trusts realise that patient safety is clearly jeopardised by staffing levels falling below a certain point is overdue - but brilliant.
The so-called “Francis effect” is making chief executives reach for their cheque books and put in more funded establishments for nursing posts and healthcare assistants (page 2).
Three quarters of the 102 trusts that responded to a freedom of information request revealed that they had allocated more money to the numbers of full-time equivalent nurses in 2012-13 than in the previous financial year.
This resulted in an extra 4,321 potential nursing roles being created, an increase of 2.6% on 2011-12. The number of full-time equivalent healthcare assistant posts also increased over the same time period by 1.3% in 59 hospitals.
It would be shameful, after Robert Francis QC’s extensive work on the evidence he heard over several months, if the effect of his report were not being felt in trusts up and down the country.
With all the compassion in the world, if there are not enough nurses to bring pain relief, take people to the toilet or help them drink, patients will be put at risk
However, while the intention to have more nurses taking care of patients is there, is this becoming a reality? The latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show the number of full-time equivalent nurses in the NHS has fallen by 3,000 since 2010, while the total headcount has dropped by more than 5,000. In addition, 29 hospitals out of the 102 actually cut their numbers of nurses and HCAs in this period compared to the previous year.
Let’s hope that the Francis effect is going to be long term and not something that quickly falls by the wayside when times get tough and financial targets become the priority. The scale and depth of the problems at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, as evidenced by Francis, so clearly indicate that things need to change - and change hugely. Long-term permanent solutions to the problems must be sought and committed to.
Understaffing clearly jeopardises patient safety as the Safe Staffing Alliance has made clear with its evidence. It’s not alone in its fight for a safe standard of staffing to be set. You can have all the compassion in the world but, if there are not enough nurses to bring pain relief promptly, take people to the toilet or help them drink, patients will be put at risk.
So let’s make sure that the Francis effect is enduring. Let’s make sure it lasts forever.
Jenni Middleton, editor
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