A new study has revealed the missing link explaining the key difference between mortality rates in different hospitals around the UK.
Dr Jane Ball, from the University of Southampton, has found through her research that hospitals with the lowest number of registered nursing staff (RN) had the highest risk of patient death. It appears that those hospitals with lower numbers of available nurses means that nurses end up sharing the workload amongst them. This in turn results in individual nurses with greater workloads and often not enough time in which to accomplish all their tasks.
Of her study Dr Ball said: “For years we have known that there is a relationship between nurse staffing levels and hospital variation in mortality rates but we have not had a good explanation as to how or why.
“These results give the clearest indication yet that RN staffing levels are not just associated with patient mortality, but that the relationship may be causal.
“If there are not enough registered nurses on hospital wards, necessary care is left undone, and people’s lives are put at risk.”
As well as nurse staffing numbers affecting mortality rates the study showed that hospitals with a greater number of nurses educated to degree level boasted a lower number of patient deaths.
The Royal College of Nursing is not surprised by the findings. Chief Executive of the RCN, Janet Davies, has said: “Despite years of warnings, hospitals across the country do not have enough nurses”.
“This research puts beyond doubt that patients pay the very highest price when the government permits nursing on the cheap.”
Ms Davies went on to say: “As the nurse shortage bites, hospitals are filling wards with unregistered health care assistants in a bid to cope, especially at night.
“Ministers cannot ignore further evidence that the lack of registered nurses leads to people left in pain for longer and a higher risk of not recovering at all.
“The government must redouble its efforts to train and recruit more nurses and stop haemorrhaging experienced professionals who feel burnt out and undervalued.”