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'Invest in staffing now to enable safe patient care'


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 Follow me on Twitter @SteveJFord

● Jenni Middleton is on holiday


Readers' comments (4)

  • Shortage of nurses, well I had 2 weeks sick leave in 6 years, the trust I worked with in North London decided to get rid of me on the grounds of age, so the NHS bring it on themselves, they said trust then advertised for nurses in Spain. Guess experience and expertise does not count. I was told that they could not query my expertise and that my patient turnover was higher than other staff members so where is the justice,

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  • tinkerbell

    staff are mostly not valued by their managers, you are a number, not a person. I am considering retiring myself in the near future due to physical health problems. I have tried to continue working with them past 7 months but when I told my manager recently I would need to take some time off sick whilst awaiting MRI results and due to balance problems was asked 'can't you retire?' this is because my absence will be nothing more than a bloody inconvenience and my health and well being are of little concern despite rarely taking any sick leave.

    It has been a pleasure and a honour for me to be a nurse past 27 years. For me it was a purposeful vocation but just lately I am glad to be coming to the end of my career because I see staff are becoming less and less valued are seen as a means to an end rather than a valuable asset for a caring society. We have been demonised by a propaganda machine and all tarred with the same brush in order to introduce a ruthless ideology and I hope the upcoming and next generation of nurses are going to fight to ensure fairness for themselves and their patients so they can provide safe quality care and not just 'coping' instead of caring when they are run ragged because private companies want to provide profits for their companies rather than quality care for their patients.

    If we think it's bad now, private investors are looking to make you work harder, for longer, for less. Cheap as chips!

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  • I agree youre just a number and treated like a machine 'plug us in and we'll work all day!' but there comes a time when the machine begins to breakdown and eventually ends up on the scrap heap alone and broken! yet ministers expect us to return to the profession, no fear of that!!! They've told us what we're worth by not giving us a measly 1% pay rise, didn't see them turning down what the independent pay review body awarded them

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  • Anonymous | 26-May-2014 7:20 pm

    you sum it up well! I understood i had been employed in a care home as a fully autonomous professional free to organised my own workload within the routinised framework of the home and like my few other nursing colleagues work alongside and support the team of healthcare assistants. However, I was penalised for being caught in the floor kitchen between the care of two patients - having finished with one an moving on to the next, taking a quick drink of water before our official quarter of an hour coffee break which we all had to take punctually together at 9 am. If we were late questions were asked! No worry you might be with a patient, trying to encourage their independence by letting them do what they could for themselves and needed a little extra time. I believe I was actually stealing as the water I took was from a bottle of mineral water, on a very hot summer's day! My name from then on was mud! No concern for my biological clock and ensuring my adequate renal function. I didn't last long there as I go the sack whilst in hospital nursing a broken leg and was not believed when I declared the accident. I gave the diagnosis of a fractured tibia and my boss said 'no' it was not broken! when I first returned to work part time on the order of my GP i was told of by the boss as with a very swollen ankle I had responded to an emergency bell (false alarm) by using the lift instead of the stairs!

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