A former chief nursing officer for Scotland has called on political parties to “urgently” commit to minimum staffing levels to prevent serious failings in care.
In an editorial published today, Anne Jarvie and Professor Derek Bell, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, called on politicians to learn from the experiences of recent care scandals.
They noted that the increasing pressures experienced by nurses and other health professionals were “well-documented” and highlighted the need for the NHS at all levels to actively value staff and to support them in their day-to-day roles.
Their editorial discusses 10 major inquiries and reviews into serious care failings since 2000, including Mid Staffordshire and the Vale of Leven.
Ms Jarvie and Professor Bell said patients and staff could be forgiven for asking “where next?”, and claimed recent improvements in inspection will be insufficient alone to prevent future incidents.
“We now need to adopt a holistic approach to the NHS and to focus on the staff delivering patient care”
They highlighted that the NHS had made “much progress” on improving patient involvement in care decisions and said it was now necessary to give similar priority to supporting the needs of NHS staff and recognising the “people” element within the NHS.
They called on all political parties to commit to developing and implementing minimum staffing levels for all professions within hospital settings, based upon best evidence, as a policy priority.
In addition, nurses and other health professionals should be reminded of their value to the NHS and managers should foster a supportive environment where staff were seen as valued individuals.
All boards and trusts should also be encouraged to “develop, publish and promote” policies aimed at engaging and valuing staff and responding to their concerns, they write in the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.
Ms Jarvie, who was CNO for Scotland between 1992 and 2004 and is currently chair of the college’s lay advisory group, said: “NHS staff are highly committed individuals who want to do the best that they can for their patients at all times.
“However, the experience gained from recent inquiries into serious failings in care would suggest where failings have occurred, staff had not been engaged and something had happened to reduce their levels of compassion,” she said.
“No-one wants a ‘where next?’ and in addition to focussing on patients, we also now need to adopt a holistic approach to the NHS and to focus on the staff delivering patient care,” she added.
The proposals have been backed by groups including Scotland’s Patients’ Association, the Nuffield trust think tank and Lord MacLean, chair of the Vale of Leven Hospital Inquiry.