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Trusts must act on staffing to avoid another tragedy

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What does it take to make trusts understand that you cannot provide safe, high-quality care without enough nurses?

What does it take to make trusts understand that you cannot provide safe, high-quality care without enough nurses?

This week we analyse the findings of the Healthcare Commission’s follow-up report into the tragic events at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where 33 patients died after contracting Clostridium difficile in outbreaks over a two-year period (p9).

The commission’s initial report was damning and blamed the shortage of nursing staff. It described the distress of nurses who were too overworked to provide a decent standard of care. The report was mirrored in the HCC’s findings on the events at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust last month.

Despite some progress, Stoke Mandeville has not fully met the commission’s demands on qualified staffing levels.

It appears the shocking scandal of the C. difficile outbreaks at Maidstone, where warnings of the damage of understaffing on patient care were dismissed by senior management, have had little or no effect at some trusts.

Nine out of 10 respondents to a poll said a tragedy like that at Maidstone could happen at their trust. Nurses on wards that are not fully staffed at all times know what risks are being taken – trust boards need to realise that infection cannot be defeated without adequate staffing levels.

NHS chief executive David Nicholson’s call for trusts to ‘look out, not up’ must be heeded. That means putting patient care first, listening to ward managers about what resources they need to provide that care, and ensuring they receive them. Only then will nurses be in a position to beat infection.

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