Leaked NICE guidance on safe staffing levels recommended nurse to patient ratios

minimum nurse to patient ratios to ensure safe staffing on wards. NICE had previously refused to release the guidance that had been developed on safe staffing as NHS Improvement took over the work in the middle of last year.

The decision to pull the plug on NICE’s research was seen as wasteful of public monies and seemed to point to the existence of a nurse to patient ratio within its guidance. The issue of nurse to patient ratios appears to have became something of a political hot potato with NICE appearing to advocate for the ratio and senior NHS/Department of Health figures (including Jeremy Hunt) being staunchly against it.

We have been promised, later in the year guidance on safe staffing from NHS Improvement and it is quite clear that nurse to patient levels will not be addressed explicitly in this guidance. The guidance on safe staffing will focus on a multidisciplinary approach not exclusively focusing on nursing levels. Quite what form this will take is not yet known.

It may be that the senior NHS figures that appear to have dismissed NICE’s guidance thought that the implementation of such a rigid approach to safe staffing levels might in itself financially cripple an already struggling NHS.

This leak will serve to continue to inspire debate on the topic of safe staffing levels in particular in relation to nurse levels. It also serves as the most comprehensive evidence-based piece of guidance on safe staffing levels currently available. NHS Improvement’s official guidance on safe staffing levels is eagerly awaited.

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