Wards dangerously understaffed, say nurses in survey

Unidentified nursed working on medical records Patient to nurse ratios on hospital wards came under the spotlight in the survey

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More than half of nurses believe their NHS ward or unit is dangerously understaffed, according to a survey.

The Nursing Times conducted an online poll of nearly 600 of its readers on issues such as staffing, patient safety and NHS culture.

Three-quarters had witnessed what they considered "poor" care over the past 12 months, the survey found.

The government said it had increased staffing and hundreds of new nurses were still being taken on by the NHS.

'Increasingly difficult'

The survey comes ahead of a public inquiry report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.

More than 57% of those asked in the survey described their ward or unit as sometimes or always "dangerously understaffed".

Start Quote

Cutting nurses will have a negative impact on the quality of care that's provided and in the worse case scenario yes it can lead to untimely deaths.”

End Quote Howard Catton Royal College of Nursing

Of those who had witnessed poor care, nearly 30% said they had seen it happen regularly.

Some 85% of those who worked on general wards said the patient to nurse ratio was eight or more to one, and 44% said the ratio was 10 or more to one.

Howard Catton, head of policy at the Royal College of Nursing, told the BBC the ratio level in many hospitals was unacceptable.

"We should have clear national guidance on what safe staffing levels are. One registered nurse to eight patients is getting into very risky territory, it should be around one in five.

"We have ratios for our kids in nurseries...why can't we have them for our patients in hospitals?

"Cutting nurses will have a negative impact on the quality of care that's provided and in the worse case scenario yes it can lead to untimely deaths."

Unison head of nursing Gail Adams told the Nursing Times the findings of the survey echoed their own research on the issue, carried out in 2012.

"At the time less than 10% of nurses said they could deliver safe, dignified, compassionate care all of the time."

Low morale

Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern, told BBC Radio 5 Live nurses felt they could not keep their patients safe because there were not enough staff.

"The amount of work they are expected to do goes up all the time but staffing levels don't rise," she said.

"You hear all these stories that nurses don't care anymore but really it's that nurses can't care because they don't have time because there aren't enough of them."

Also speaking to Radio Five Live Jenni Middleton, editor of the Nursing Times, said morale was very low amongst nurses.

"If you've gone into that job to care and to look after people and to not be able to do that is heartbreaking and very very stressful because you feel you're incapable of doing what you've been trained to do because you don't have the resources to back you up."

Care standards

Prime Minister David Cameron has acknowledged the government still has a long way to go to raise standards across the NHS.

Mr Cameron encouraged the idea of nurses checking on patients every hour, as part of a package of nursing measures in January.

Some 31% of nurses on general wards in the survey said they were not aware of this being introduced where they worked.

The issue of care standards will come to the fore again when the Francis report into the Mid Staffs Trust is published on Wednesday.

Inquiry chairman Robert Francis QC will present the final report to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, before the minister makes a Commons statement.

The £13m inquiry was set up after a Healthcare Commission report in 2009 found "appalling standards" of care.

In response to the survey, the government said there were more clinical staff working in the NHS now than when it came to power in May 2010.

About 2,500 new nurses started working in the NHS in October 2012 alone, it added.

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