There is just one nurse on some NHS wards all night, data obtained by the Royal College of Nursing suggests.
The information obtained via a freedom of information request also found a large reliance on temporary workers to hold the fort overnight.
Acute hospital trusts in the east of England were asked by the RCN for staffing information on a randomly chosen night, January 14, after it was informally told about issues in the area.
The resulting report said five hospitals, from three of the region’s 18 trusts, had wards with only one registered nurse on duty that night “compared to their establishment that they have two registered nurses and one healthcare assistant”.
The RCN said there were 573 agency, bank or locum staff working night shifts on that date across all the trusts.
It has signed up to the Safe Staffing Alliance, which wants no more than eight patients for each nurse. That’s based on a study that found hospitals with a greater ratio of patients to registered nurses would see about 20 more deaths a year than those with more staff. Southampton University used general acute wards during the day to come up with the figure.
The RCN said at first, two places refused the freedom of information request - West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust and Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust, with the later currently under investigation by police over allegedly falsified waiting times for cancer patients.
The report said having only one nurse on duty would “result in delays for patients receiving pain relief and intravenous fluids” and outcomes for patients on such wards should have been recorded as “near-miss clinical incidents”.
It said the investigation was sparked by anecdotal evidence from members of the public who said nurses in some hospitals “were looking after wards single-handedly with only a healthcare assistant in support” and “covering at night to support inexperienced junior doctors” because there was not enough senior-level supervision.
It said the data compiled showed some wards had only one registered nurse and “all hospitals were struggling to cover night shifts”, with a resulting reliance on temporary staff.
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