Welcome for Government U-turn on safe staffing

Posted on: 19th November 2013

Health Select Committee Member and the MP who has led the campaign to establish safe registered nurse to patient ratios on hospital wards, Andrew George, has welcomed the Government’s change of heart in accepting that adequate registered nurse staffing levels are a primary indicator of patient outcomes on acute hospital wards.

In recent years Mr George (Liberal Democrat MP for the West Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Constituency of St Ives) has pressed Ministers through meetings, questions and motions to Parliament to establish a benchmark against which safe registered nurse staffing levels could be measured. He is a supporter of the Safe Staffing Alliance which has recommended that there should be “never more than eight” patients to each registered nurse (excluding the nurse in charge) on each acute hospital ward.

In its report on the Robert Francis Inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Hospital Trust scandal, the Health Select Committee had recommended that hospitals should show how many registered nurses were on duty at any time and publish how many registered nurses are necessary in order to provide safe staffing. The Government will accept this recommendation in principle.

Mr George said: “Having been in denial for so long, I am pleased by the Government’s change of heart. Until now, Government Ministers accepted the banal management babble of management consultants who seem to have mesmerised Ministers in recent decades. Until now it has always been suggested that patient safety was not so much a function of registered staff nursing levels as it was of ‘culture’ and ‘leadership’.

“We don’t want to see any more Mid Staffs. But even if Ministers were to achieve the most sophisticated culture and the most charismatic leadership on our wards the fact is that if there simply aren’t enough registered nurses, patient safety will be compromised.

“At last the penny has dropped. Now is the time for rapid implementation of a policy of safe staffing.

“And we don’t want a manipulation of the figures. The Safe Staffing Alliance recommendation of “never more than eight” patients to each registered nurse (excluding the nurse in charge) on acute hospital wards should never be breached. Some Trusts are suggesting in their staff plans that “Advanced Care Practitioners” (i.e. trained healthcare assistants) can be counted as equivalent to registered nurses which they most clearly are not. Registered nurses have had at least three years of clinical training and are registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Care assistants do a really important job and assist nurses to ensure that hospital wards function successfully but they are not equivalent to registered nurses.”

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