Acute trusts have reported 92% of trusts have failed to meet their own staffing levels in the day with 81% of trusts failing to meet their own staffing levels in the night.
Set against the backdrop of the low availability of nurses and expensive agency nursing staff these figures paint a picture of hospitals in crisis. Research conducted by HSJ has found that the situation in relation to nursing staffing levels has worsened from a position of January 2015. It has been suggested that a reason for the missed nurse staffing targets may have been a consequence of the introduction of NICE Guidelines on safe staffing. This was introduced last year and would have increased the levels of nurse staffing considered safe to be available on each acute trust. The guidelines state that in an acute ward the ratio of one registered nurse to 8 patients should be considered safe but is at pains not to set this number as an arbitrary rule. It depends on the individual care needs of the patients within their care.
The failure to meet one’s own safe staffing levels does appear to be worrying given that they will be tailored to meet their specific needs as opposed to a catch all ratio. These figures suggest that 9 out of ten of the wards in the UK are not adequately staffed by nurses which can give a distorted negative view of the provision of healthcare in hospitals across the UK. There is a delicate path to tread between having the safe number and mix of nursing staff to meet patient need and being potentially criticised for running an operation with nursing capacity that outstrips the demand.
Further guidance is welcomed from NHS England who have stated that they will build on the staffing guidance published by NICE last year to provide hospitals with more assistance with the setting of their nursing staffing levels.17