Parliamentary sketch – Just what the nurse ordered

Posted on: 17th July 2014

More good news.  Another campaign success!

Hot on the heels of the recent announcement on rail investment, the long campaign for safe nurse staffing on hospital wards gets its reward.  And just desserts for the Safe Staffing Alliance (SSA) and for my campaign in Parliament.

Under the radar while Cabinet reshuffles and World Cup homecomings have dominated the news, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has finally announced that acute hospitals must follow guidelines of never allowing staffing to fall below one registered nurse to eight patients (excluding the nurse in charge).

There haven’t been enough registered nurses on many of our hospital wards.  It has put patients at risk.  That’s what I’ve been telling Health Ministers for years and repeated again earlier this year in a debate which I led in the Commons.

Whilst much of the health debate has become obsessed with changing and tweaking management tools for Commissioners, incentivising health systems with “payment by results” and sophisticated “tariffs”, creating new “pathways of care” and spending (and mostly wasting) £billions on fancy IT systems, our frontline nurses have been run ragged.

I had included in my shortlist of three potential Parliamentary Bills under the Private Members Bill system, a “Safe Healthcare Standards Bill” which would have set safe registered nursing ratios on hospital wards.  One of the reasons I chose not to go ahead with this was because I was aware of the work which NICE were undertaking and felt confident that we would achieve this by other means.  This week’s announcement is excellent news, not just for the nurses who have been put under so much pressure in recent years, but for patient care.

Of course, some have assumed that poor care on hospital wards is due to a malicious and uncaring attitude (clearly if there are individual cases of callous or unprofessional behaviour these should be dealt with), but it most settings we found that there simply aren’t enough registered nurses serving on hospital wards.

Also, many people have confused registered nurses with the many committed and hard working (but, crucially, clinically untrained) healthcare assistants; and that doesn’t help when explaining the nature of the problem.

Working with the Safe Staffing Alliance (whose members include the Florence Nightingale Foundation, the Patients Association, Nursing Standard and the Royal College of Nursing, amongst others) I have warned that there are at least 4,000 “excess deaths” in hospitals in the country as a result of there being inadequate numbers of registered nurses at ward level.  The SSA recommended a “fundamental standard” where a limit of eight patients to each registered nurse should never be breached.

Every time I raised the case, senior officials or Ministers retreated behind the same management babble, claiming that it was more a question of “culture” or “leadership” than basic numbers of registered nurses.

This week’s announcement cuts through that management babble and gives us all a basic measure which will make it simpler to judge whether managers are giving nurses the support they deserve.  There have been many occasions in most hospitals where financial and management pressures have forced nurses to work in clinically unsafe environments.  This has to end and this week’s announcement is an important first step.


You can contact Andrew George by email:  His constituency office can be contacted at Trewella, 18 Mennaye Road, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 4NG.  Telephone: 01736 360020.


Andrew George MP

Kernow a’n West ha Syllan

West Cornwall and the Scillies

Kwartron Porthia

Constituency of St Ives

Tel:  01736 360020

Fax:  01736 332866


15th July 2014