The Link Between Nurse Staffing and Patient Outcomes

Nursing Times research shows that there is a link between nurse staffing levels and the outcomes for patients needing help in the NHS. Here are some findings.
The study was conducted by academics from Birmingham City University’s Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences, led by London South Bank University (LSBU). It found a strong correlation between low nurse staffing and the outcome for patients needing help in the NHS.

In short, lower staffing levels are associated with higher rates of falls and deaths. What the study also explored was that the type of nurses such as registered nurses or healthcare support workers, affected patients’ outcomes also.
Large observational studies found that when certain tasks were delegated to a lesser qualified nurse or a nurse working outside of their specialised area of nursing, an increase in patients who fall was the result.
Falls are costly when it comes to their effects on the patient, often resulting in stress, injury, lack of confidence and independence and death.
A recent article in
The Times reported that falls amongst the elderly were costing the NHS £2.3 billion a year.
Around 30% of people aged 65 and over will fall at least once a year and 255,000 will result in a hospital admission in England.
A scenario in the aforementioned study suggested that replacing six healthcare workers with six registered nurses on wards with the highest incidents of falls could decrease falls by 15% per month.

Much of the 101 published studies on nurses staffing levels and patient outcomes up to 2006 comes from outside the UK. And since this time yet more studies have been performed from other countries such as China, Australia, Thailand and across 12 European countries.

Sadly, the evidence doesn’t reach its full informative potential due to the lack of clearly defined criteria and standards to hold a fair and conclusive study.
What can be learned from all these studies, whatever the variations of the criteria, is that they all suggest a strong link in the risks related to low registered nurse staffing and how this negatively (and sometimes gravely) affects patients’ outcome.
Going forward, the next step would be to hold a definitive study of UK
wards with clearly defined research conditions, yielding more concrete results. These results can then be used as the foundation of a report which can then be taken seriously by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). Only then can we hope for the issues to be taken seriously and see some positive changes that ultimately will be saving lives.