Wards 'dangerously understaffed'

News Shopper: A majority of nurses responding to a poll said the ratio of patients to each nurse at their hospitals could compromise patient care A majority of nurses responding to a poll said the ratio of patients to each nurse at their hospitals could compromise patient care

More than half of nurses think their ward or unit is dangerously understaffed, a Nursing Times survey has revealed.

Nearly six out of 10 (57%) described their ward as sometimes or always "dangerously understaffed", the research showed. Over three quarters (76%) said they had witnessed "poor" care in their ward or unit over the past year - of which nearly 30% said they see poor care regularly.

Ahead of the publication of the public inquiry report into deaths at Mid Staffordshire Hospital, the magazine polled 600 of its readers across a range of issues including staffing, patient safety and NHS culture. A majority of respondents said the ratio of patients to each nurse at their hospitals could compromise patient care.

More than eight out of 10 respondents said staffing on general medical wards in an acute hospital was at a ratio of eight patients to one nurse, or more. And of these nearly half (44%) said the ratio was 10 or more patients per nurse. A ratio of eight or more patients per registered nurse is associated with patient care on a ward regularly being compromised by short staffing, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

In addition, nearly half (43%) of those who worked on general medical wards said the ratio of registered nurses to unqualified healthcare assistants was either 50:50 or worse, similar to ratios at Stafford Hospital, part of the Mid Staffs trust. The RCN recommends a ratio of 65% registered nurses to 35% non-registered nursing staff.

The inquiry into the Mid Staffs trust was commissioned in 2010 after a separate highly critical report by the Healthcare Commission the previous year revealed a catalogue of failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and said "appalling standards" put patients at risk.

Asked whether they thought there were more "Mid Staffs" out there, nearly half (46%) of survey respondents said they thought there were many trusts failing like Mid Staffs and 38% that there were a small number of trusts failing like Mid Staffs.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "There are more clinical staff working in the NHS now than there were in May 2010, and nearly 2,500 new nurses started working in the NHS in October 2012 alone. Hospitals are in charge of setting staffing levels but nursing leaders have been clear that they should publish staffing details and the evidence to show the numbers are right and safe for the services they deliver."

RCN director Janet Davies told the BBC the findings were "very concerning but not surprising - we have been hearing about this for some time from nurses".

Mrs Davies said posts were being unfilled as nurses left, heaping pressure on the remaining staff. She added: "We know that nurses are going home very distressed after a shift when they have not been able to provide all the care they need to. So what we find is nurses prioritise on the most important things but there is insufficient time for more compassionate work.

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