May 2014 is becoming very significant in the ongoing battle for safe staffing levels in the NHS.
We have had the draft recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence acknowledging that more than eight patients per nurse on a regular basis increased the risk of harm on adult wards, which no doubt caused a few sweats in Whitehall. And last week, a report revealed 83% of NHS service providers were experiencing shortages in their supply of qualified nurses. It calculated that overall 12,566 full-time nurse posts were unfilled.
Of course, frontline nurses already know this and have conveyed their concerns to Nursing Times, as have unions. Our joint survey with ITV earlier this month revealed more than eight out of 10 nurses said they did not have enough time to give adequate care.
But the absolutely vital point to make here is last week’s report was prepared for the education body Health Education England by the organisation NHS Employers − i.e. the bosses. It is, therefore, a significant admission that there is a nurse staffing problem.
The Department of Health has often highlighted latest figures showing an increase of 2,400 registered nurses on acute, elderly and general wards between February and October 2013, but we can now see how far this is from what is actually needed.
The absolutely vital point is last week’s report was prepared for HEE by NHS Employers, i.e. the bosses. It is, therefore, an admission there is a staffing problem
Now that the problem has been recognised what can be done?
Trusts are already rushing to recruit staff from overseas and HEE has promised a 9% increase in the number of nursing degree places.
Other remedies include encouraging former nurses to return to practice, though it may be a tall order persuading people to rejoin a profession that is feeling underpaid, overworked and undervalued.
Another workforce idea is the use of Schwartz rounds, which are regular meetings between staff to work through non-clinical problems. Although certainly not a replacement for more staff, they can at least help ease stress levels for those at the coalface.
A review of Schwartz rounds will be done by the National Nursing Research Unit − coincidentally the same group of nurse researchers that has done so much to establish the evidence base for the one to eight staffing ratio.
Essentially, staffing is a big problem that requires a range of solutions, and quickly. And I’m afraid it always comes back to money. We know the NHS budget is squeezed, but staff are the health service’s most vital resource. They are the ones who provide the care, without them the diagnoses would not be made and the treatments not given - the money must be found.
Steve Ford, news editor
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● Jenni Middleton is on holiday