You may have seen the petition circling social networking sites fighting for an improved nurse to patient ratio.
To be specific it’s asking for at least one trained nurse for every four patients, which in theory would be a vast improvement. But what evidence is there to suggest more nurses necessarily leads to improved and safer care?
The idea behind the argument appears to be that with fewer patients nurses will have more time to be compassionate and fulfill the remaining 6C’s.
This is an ideology that some states in Australia have had in place since 2001. Does this mean we are behind the times? Furthermore, some of these states even correlate the amount you get paid to your ratio, a sort of work related pay scheme. Personally this saddens me and really undervalues our countries fantastic nurses, who are pushed to the limit.
As it currently stands the petition has around 5,000 signatures and this is growing every day. Ironically the latest NHS figures suggest that since 2010 there has been a loss of 5,000 nurses. So is the point not getting across at all? Hopefully this petition will help to get our voices heard. It really showcases the solidarity within our profession.
After the Francis report the RCN cried out for better ratios, appealing for new legislation. Citing evidence from Australia, which suggest increased staffing makes a positive difference to patient outcomes, including mortality, adverse events, and patient experience.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a registered nurse in California by the name of Sheena Myers. On a normal day Sheena has 4 or 5 patients. She told me, “I feel more prepared, less rushed and more in tune with what’s going on with my patients. I feel like a better nurse.” Wouldn’t it be great if we all felt the same way? Although, despite the current positive atmosphere, her health authority is increasing the ratio to 12:1, understandably causing an “uproar”.
If we did achieve a 4:1 ratio how would it be governed? How would it be managed to ensure the safe ratio was sustained day in day out?
Maybe we could adapt the A&E model that sees units fined if fewer than 95% of patients are seen within the four-hour waiting time target. Could each department have a set patient to nurse ratio to aim for? If so, would it be plausible to fine departments if the average ratio fell below that?
Admittedly, it would be difficult to sustain in some departments, such as critical care and A&E. For instance, if A&E is full and a patient is rushed in with chest pain, someone is getting that fifth (or sixth) patient no matter what.
The problem undoubtedly lies within the funding of the NHS, which is out of our control. Nonetheless if this petition reaches David Cameron or Jeremy Hunt it’ll be mission complete, our distressed, tired yet concerned voices will be heard.
Sign here, good quality patient care is in your hands:
Ben Mullin is a third year student nurse on the adult branch at Sheffield Hallam University