UK researchers are to begin a new study investigating how the provision of nurses in hospitals affects the care and safety of patients.
The research will examine the relationship between nurse staffing levels and failure to observe vital signs and patient deterioration.
It will also look at the possible consequences, such as cardiac arrest calls, unanticipated admission to intensive care and death.
“Our study will help give a clear picture of the relationship between staff numbers and negative patient outcomes”
The two-year study, which is being funded by the National Institute for Health Research, will involve Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust and the universities of Portsmouth, Southampton and York.
Professor Peter Griffiths, from the University of Southampton, will lead the study. Professor Griffiths is a former director of the National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College London and worked on the international RN4CAST study, which also looked at the impact of nurse staffing levels on care.
Outlining the new research, he said: “The potential for inadequate nursing care to do patients great harm has emerged as a factor in several recent reports into failings in NHS hospitals. These have often noted that staffing levels were an important issue associated with poor care and deaths, which could have been avoided.
“Our study will help give a clear picture of the relationship between staff numbers and negative patient outcomes, using data routinely collected on hospital wards, during thousands of nursing shifts,” he said.
The researchers will gather information from 32 general inpatient wards across 100,000 shifts. They will use data on nurse staffing levels, combined with vital signs observations and information on patient outcomes.
Whereas previous research has relied on nurses to report the care they missed, the new study aims to be more accurate by using data directly from ward records.
Data will be derived from a number of sources including nurses’ handheld devices, a cardiac arrest database, intensive care unit admissions and laboratory records.
The study authors will estimate the staffing required on different types of hospital wards to ensure the observation of vital signs by nurses remains at an acceptable level.
They will also assess the costs and consequences of different staffing policies, giving guidance on the importance of different mixes of nursing skills to achieve consistent observation of patients.
Debra Elliott, deputy director of nursing at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Our participation will enable us to look in unprecedented detail at how staffing levels can impact on patients, and this will be an invaluable learning experience.”
The authors said they aimed to publish their findings in December 2017.