Patient mortality rates are significantly affected by the number of registered nurses on a ward, a major US had shown.
The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, adds to a growing body of evidence that qualified nurse staffing levels affect patient safety.
The results also chime with data analysis by Nursing Times two years ago, which showed the more nurses that a trust employs per bed the fewer of its patients are likely to die or experience long hospital stays (news, page 1, 31 March 2009)
The US researchers compared nursing shift data with the records of 198,000 patients in 43 wards at a large hospital. This included looking at the number of nurses on each eight hour shift.
They found patient mortality risk increased by 2% for each shift they were exposed to that was substantially understaffed. The average patient was exposed to three shifts that were understaffed, meaning their mortality risk was about 6% higher than for patients on wards that were always fully staffed.
Mortality risk was found to increase further still on wards where nurses’ workloads were increased by high patient turnover due to admission, discharges and transfers.
Responding to the study, American Nursing Association President Karen Daley said: “It shows that nurse staffing should not be viewed as a cost to be minimized, but as a critical factor in producing quality patient outcomes — ultimately saving lives.”
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Is your ward regularly understaffed?