Long-awaited safe staffing survey gets government backing

Survey will focus on costs and consequences of implementing safe staffing policies 

A two-year study into safe staffing has been backed by £500,000 of government money.

Researchers will ask 155 acute trusts in England to evaluate their safe staffing initiatives for nurses. The new research will examine:

How implementation of the schemes has varied

What changes in staffing levels have been observed

Whether staffing changes are associated with changes in staff and patient outcomes

The move has been welcomed by Safe Staffing Alliance chair Susan Osborne. She thinks the study, The Implementation, Impact and Costs of Safe Staffing Policies for Nursing in Acute Trusts, will go a long way towards providing much needed evidence on staffing.

‘This report should have been commissioned sooner,’ she said. ‘It is a shame it will take two years to publish but I know the researchers are going to produce some very good data.’

University of Southampton researchers Jane Ball and Peter Griffiths will work with Bangor University professors Jo Rycroft-Malone and Christopher Burton.

The study arose from a workshop with 23 members of the public in Southampton in October where nurse staffing was ranked as a top health care priority.

Four hospitals will provide daily data for a year, listing the nursing hours they require each shift, compared with the hours they actually get.

Professor Griffiths said: ‘Our earlier research demonstrates a clear link between nurse staffing levels and hospital-related deaths.

‘This new study is to identify the costs and consequences of implementing safe staffing policies, and to explain what has shaped successful implementation.’

Ms Ball added: ‘In the current financial context, using resources wisely to minimise the risks of hospital care and maximise the benefits to patients is essential.’

An advisory group – including directors of nursing – will meet three time a year and findings will be made public.

While the focus is on NHS acute trusts in England, the team predict the findings and lessons learned about policy implementation will be useful to other parts of the health service.

Safe staffing was a recommendation of the Francis Inquiry in 2013 that looked into the higher than normal number of deaths at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust between 2005/08.