Should Minimum Staffing Levels Be Introduced To The NHS?

Should Minimum Staffing Levels Be Introduced To The NHS?

The results of a survey released this week by Unison has revealed that over half of NHS nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants are worried that the standards of care at their particular hospital are so bad that they may be facing a Mid-Staffordshire-esque medical negligence crisis.

The survey, which questioned over 1,500 NHS frontline workers, found that in 1 in 5 of those nurses said failings at their hospital put their particular hospital at risk of falling into the kind of poor standards seen at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2009. More worryingly, 9.9% felt that the standard of care at their hospital was already as bad as Stafford Hospital.

Some of the concerns expressed in the survey were frontline NHS staff lacking the time to explain treatments, keep proper records or even help their patients eat and drink. There were also fears expressed that staff are overworked, stressed and tired, leading to a drop in the standard of care they can provide.

Just 31% of the nurses surveyed felt that there are enough nurses to guarantee an acceptable standard of care to all patients.

The survey comes against a backdrop of ongoing austerity with the NHS, with £20bn of efficiency savings expected to be made by 2015. Since 2010, 5000 nursing jobs have been lost, placing serious pressure on the nurses who remain.

One of the solutions suggested by Unison, and backed by the Royal College of Nursing and Labour, is to introduce minimum staffing levels in the NHS. This would be based off a minimum patient-to-staff ratio, a ratio that would be set to ensure that all patients receive an acceptable standard of care.

There’s no doubt that hospital staff are overworked at present, and it makes sense to draw a parallel between the ongoing cuts to the NHS and the ever-increasing number of medical negligence cases. Certainly, an overworked doctor working alone is more likely to misdiagnose a patient or miss something crucial than a doctor supported by a team.

However, with efficiency savings a priority, it seems unlikely that a minimum staffing level will be introduced. Should it be introduced, there is bound to be much wrangling over an acceptable ratio.

What matters most, however, is that standards of care in our hospitals are falling – something recognised by the people who work within them. Will these falling standards lead to more medical negligence cases or another case on the scale of Mid-Staffordshire? Only time will tell.

For more information on medical negligence and a free consultation, get in touch with Pearson Hinchliffe.