Nursing cuts could lead to more hospital deaths, says study

4 March 2014

Nursing cuts could lead to more hospital deaths, says study

The medical journal Lancet has performed a study and analysis of nurse to patient ratios in 9 European countries, having looked at 300 hospitals and over 400,000 patients, and has found that England is particularly strained with an average of 9 patients looked over by just 1 nurse.

England’s nursing staff seriously overworked

The analysis conducted by the Lancet found the ratio in England was higher than some European countries, saying that England needed a ratio of at least 1 nurse for every 8 patients. At present they found the average ratio in England is a figure of 9 patients being looked after by one nurse.

Elsewhere in Europe the ratios were as follows, with England just under Spain as having the most overworked nursing staff workforce.

Norway: 5.2 patients to 1 nurse,

Ireland: 6.9 patients to 1 nurse

Netherlands:  7 patients to 1 nurse

Sweden: 7.6 patients to 1 nurse.

Spain's nursing staff ratio was the highest at 12.7 patients to 1 nurse.

The Lancet study looked at the workloads of the nurses, their education and the patients’ results, looking at variables like types of surgery, ages of patients, their genders and the kind of technology available to each hospital.

Mistreatment.com has dealt with a number of cases which have seen nursing teams and wards being placed under significant stress, with scarce resources being stretched so far that patient care outcomes are severely compromised; often with relevant checks and balances being missed altogether due to extreme cuts in staffing numbers and in the provision of old technologies and gaps in hierarchical structure within hospitals and trusts. Unfortunately such variables combine and can directly impact patient care, sometimes laying the grounds for medical negligence and mistreatment.

“This can compromise patient safety”

The Chief Executive of the RCN, Peter Carter, said the nurse-patient ratio in England is concerning with the obvious indication being that overstretched nursing workforces cannot provide patients with the kind of attention and care they require when recovering from surgery or being provided with supplemental care. Furthermore cuts to senior nurses further compromise patient safety without a focus on experience on wards to help patients.

"It is worrying to see that researchers found the mean ratio of patients to nurses in England is above 8, as we know that this can compromise patient safety," Mr Carter said.

"The RCN has also expressed concern at the skills mix in UK hospitals as trusts get rid of more senior nurses to save money, meaning there is far less experience on many wards, and the full extent of this will be revealed in our upcoming Frontline First report."

Cuts can increase patient risk

Prof Linda Aiken of the University of Pennsylvania is the Lancet’s research leader and said the journal's findings underline how risks to patients increase in line with cuts to nursing staff.

"They also suggest that an increased emphasis on bachelor's education for nurses could reduce hospital deaths," Prof Aiken said. "Our data suggests that a safe level of hospital nursing staff might help to reduce surgical mortality. It also challenges the widely held view that nurses' experience is more important than their education."

As of September 2013, newly-qualified nursing staff members are obliged to have university degrees.

Compassion and education should be encouraged

Mr Carter said that t was important that nurses’ training and practice fosters care elements for best patient care outcomes but also that compassion was a very important part of better education for the nurses themselves.

"Modern medicine means that a nurse's role is far more technical," Mr Carter said. "[It] requires complex decision making which demands a degree level education as well as the practical experience which currently makes up at least half of a nursing degree."

In response last November to the Mid Staffs hospital scandal, the Health Secretary said no to demands to establish a minimum nurse-patient ratio.

Mistreatment.com was created to listen to talk to people who feel that they had nobody at the NHS to listen to them when something went wrong. Members of the public who call through to us often want to raise an issue within NHS care so that somebody else is not affected the way their and their loved ones have been. Sometimes they call through to us to make a medical negligence claim because a financial settlement is needed to rebuild their life and to take care of their family. If you have experienced a form of medical mistreatment through emergency services, A&E or through surgery, for example, you can speak to the experts at Mistreatment.com