Nursing staffing levels – no improvement

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

According to a recent survey of nursing staffing levels, which questioned 5,100 nursing staff, almost two thirds of nursing staff who have experienced a “red flag” event while working on an acute adult inpatient ward have failed to see nurse numbers immediately increased to deal with the situation.

Guidance on safe staffing for nursing in adult inpatient wards in acute hospitals was published by NICE last summer. The guidelines state that when a “red flag” event occurs – such as when less than two registered nurses are present on a ward, or there is a 30 minute delay for providing pain relief – the person in charge should consider allocating additional nurses immediately.

Findings from the survey showed that 61% of all staff working on adult inpatient ward in acute hospitals in England said the safe staffing guidelines had not led to improved staffing levels at their organisation overall.

Unison’s report on the results of the survey stated that, ‘seven months on from its introduction, this is deeply worrying. If staff raise ‘red-flag’ events on staffing levels and their concerns are not acted upon, they may be unlikely to escalate them in the future because they could have no trust or confidence in the process.’

The Unison survey also revealed the majority of staff – 65% – had seen care left undone due to understaffing, suggesting nurses are more time strapped than last year, when 55% reported care had not been finished due to lack of staff.

The union has called for NICE to immediately review compliance with the guidelines and to assess the effectiveness of “red flag” events. It also wants to see NHS boards regularly receiving data on the number of “red-flag” events, where they occurred, and what action was taken to ensure patient safety.

Without commenting on the results of the survey, a spokeswoman for NICE said that: ‘Our guidance was welcomed by the NHS and by nursing leaders when it was published and we believe it represents the best approach to securing a safe staffing level.’

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