An investigation has been launched into safe staffing levels for older people’s wards in the wake of continuing concern about how older people are treated in UK hospitals.
The Royal College of Nursing study is asking nurses for evidence of staffing levels in their workplaces. The study follows on from research published last year which found such wards had a lower ration of registered nurses to healthcare assistants than other wards.
RCN older people’s adviser Nicky Hayes, who is leading the project, will visit acute and community hospitals across the UK examine staffing levels and speak to older people.
Ms Hayes, who also works as a consultant nurse for older people at King’s College Hospital Foundation Trust, told Nursing Times she hoped to produce “strong” and “definitive” guidance but could not at this stage say whether it would include a specific recommendation on minimum staffing levels.
She said: “I’m not convinced that older people can be confident that particular hospitals are specifically planning for their needs and ensuring they are staffed appropriately.
“Why should that be the case when we know that frail older people have complex needs including co-morbidities and possibly dementia?”
She said that although technical skills were present many hospitals often did not take account of patient experience and older patients’ need for caring, compassion and personal relationships with nursing staff.
“They need intensive nursing but what the evidence shows so far is that some areas aren’t allocating the same number of trained nurses [as to other wards].”
High profile reports from the Patients Association and the health ombudsman, as well as the Care Quality Commission’s dignity and nutrition spotchecks, have recently thrown the spotlight on the quality of care for older people.
The RCN Safer Staffing project has the support of organisations including the Alzheimer’s Society, Age UK and the Patients Association. They plan to together lobby government over safer staffing levels once conclusions have been reached.
It is also backed by the Department of Health and the CQC.
Nurses are being asked to fill out a survey at http://tinyurl.com/3zvmpze.