NICE Guidance on Safe Nursing Numbers

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

Hospitals in England are being given guidelines regarding safe nurse staffing levels, as provided by NICE.

While the official guidance states that “there is no single nursing staff-to-patient ratio”, it also claimed that having less than two nurses on a ward during any shift was a cause for concern.

NICE outlined several other “red flag” events, which should be avoided by NHS provider organisations. Some of the more relevant “red flag” contingencies include:

  • If a nurse is caring for more than eight patients during a day shift, their manager must assess the safety of the situation.
  • If there is a “shortfall” of more than 8 hours or 25% of a registered nurse’s available time compared with the actual length of the shift.

Reception to the guidance has generally been positive, and viewed by many as a matter of necessity.

Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing stated that: “Nursing staff have long recognised the importance of safe staffing levels and consistently provided evidence of the danger to patients where there are too few staff. It is good to see that this is now being recognised across the NHS.”

Similarly, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE, Professor Gillan Leng, said: Safe staffing is more complex than setting a single ratio. The emphasis should not just be on the available number of staff, it should be on delivering safe patient care and making sure that hospital management and nursing staff are absolutely clear on best practice to do this.” She also said: “The NHS cannot afford to be unsafe – neither morally nor financially.”

NICE’s guidance, entitled Safe Staffing for Nursing in Adult Inpatient Wards in Acute Hospitals, can be accessed HERE.

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