Academics from across the UK have said they remain concerned as to whether NHS England will be able to produce independent, robust safe staffing guidance, despite the release of some details by the chief nursing officer on her plans for the work.
CNO Jane Cummings wrote to directors of nursing yesterday outlining the “next steps” for her department’s takeover of the programme, which until last week was under the remit of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
“We remain concerned that there is no firm assurance of [the work’s] independence or of a clear plan for the rigorous weighing of evidence”
Council of Deans
Last week it was revealed in a leaked email that NICE was suspending its programme on safe nurse levels, with it later emerging that this was at the request of NHS England.
The safe staffing guideline programme had been recommended by the Francis report, which said NICE should carry out the work.
In her letter yesterday, the CNO said she wanted to “tackle misconceptions” about the takeover and provide the reasons behind the decision.
One of these reasons was that all staff – not just nurses - must be taken into account when drawing up safe staffing guidance.
Another reason pointed to the fact that, apart from acute wards, there is little research or evidence about safe staffing in other care settings.
“[The lack of safe staffing evidence] should be taken as a call to action for a strong, funded programme of research”
Council of Deans
“We need to find a new approach to testing what is right, which includes looking at what evidence exists, commissioning new research and national and international best practice,” she said in the letter.
However, despite the letter, the Council of Deans of Health - which represents all 85 UK university faculties for nursing, midwifery and allied health professions – said there was still “no firm assurance” the CNO’s work would be independent or robust.
It also noted the profession was in agreement about the importance of multidisciplinary care teams, but that there was never a substitute for a lack of registered nurses.
Meanwhile, it pointed out the lack of evidence around safe staffing should not create a “retreat” from rigorous assessment of evidence.
“[It] should be taken as a call to action for a strong, funded programme of research that would answer these questions,” said the Council of Deans.
Professor Dame Jessica Corner, chair of the council, said: “Although it is helpful to have more detail on the plans for this work, we remain concerned that there is no firm assurance of its independence or of a clear plan for the rigorous weighing of evidence that is required for robust advice to the system.”