The Health Select Committee is urging hospitals to collect details of the number of nurses on duty on every ward on a daily basis and make them publicly available to help prevent a repeat of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust scandal.
The MPs on the Committee recommend that the information is automatically collated so that it can be analyzed and also that hospitals should post the figures on wards to make patients and relatives aware of staffing levels – and importantly, highlighting whether they are high enough.
In the wake of the Mid Staffs scandal, inadequate staffing levels were found to be a significant factor in poor standards of care. It is becoming clear that this is a problem endemic to many NHS Trusts. For example, earlier this year, the Safe Staffing Alliance (which includes the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and the Patients Association) reported that wards were regularly breaching the recommended one-to-eight nurse-to-patient ratios. An analysis for The Times found that 43% of wards in a sample 46 hospitals had staffing below this advised level. Evidence has shown that, at times, the ratio at Stafford Hospital fell to one nurse to 16 patients during the day.
The Committee suggests the existing system of periodic inspection or biannual reporting of data is insufficient to monitor staffing levels. Instead, the data ought to be collated on a daily basis and made publicly available. It is hoped that having a more transparent system will improve standards of care.
Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (quoted in BBC News) highlights the “growing body of evidence demonstrating how crucial staff-patient ratios are to patient outcomes”. He has given his backing to greater transparency on nurse numbers.
Lucie Prothero, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons, said: “Inadequate staffing levels have long been highlighted as a major factor at the heart of the Mid Staffs scandal but recent data and the comments from the RGN make it clear that the problem is more wide-reaching. The recommendations of the Health Select Committee go further than the public inquiry which followed Mid Staffs, which only said that hospitals should use the ‘best available evidence on staffing ratios’ when it comes to running services.
“In our clinical negligence team we see many cases where poor staffing levels contribute to medical mistakes and substandard treatment. We are increasingly seeing insufficient numbers of nurses for elderly or dementia patients. This can lead to poor care resulting in pressure sores or avoidable falls. While transparency regarding staffing levels should surely be welcomed as part of the process of improving standards, it is clear that issues of funding and the wider availability of nurses to fill NHS posts must be addressed.”