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Emergency surgery patients 'more likely to survive' in hospitals with more nurses

A new report in the British Journal of Anaesthesia that supports the argument for safe staffing levels in hospitals as well as the 'weekend effect' has been welcomed by the RCN

The debate over safe staffing has been reignited after a new report found a direct link between the number of nurses working in hospitals and patients’ chances of surviving operations.

The study in the British Journal of Anaesthesia published today (Thursday December 17) examined the cases of 295,000 people and concluded that even those with serious illnesses and complications survived more often in hospitals employing more medical staff.

It also found that death was more likely following a weekend admission, adding weight to the ‘weekend effect’ argument which calls for a greater number of doctors and nurses to work between Fridays and Mondays.

Responding to the research, RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘Poor staffing levels have a serious impact on patient care.

‘Evidence clearly shows the positive effect that having the right number of registered nurses has on patient care, outcomes and experience.

‘When staffing levels fall, there are no longer the right number of skilled professionals, in the right settings, and when that happens, patients and their families sadly feel the effects.

‘Staffing levels were cut to save money and there are currently fewer nurses than there were in 2010.'

Ms Davies added: ‘Hard-working nurses are under a great deal of pressure and need to be properly supported to provide the great care that they all joined the profession to provide.

‘Recurrent short staffing is leading to increased stress, higher sickness absence and more staff leaving. It’s a vicious circle that must be broken.

“The NHS could reduce its staff turnover and save on the cost of temporary staff if it valued and invested in its permanent staff.

‘The benefits for all – staff, patients, and the NHS itself – would be immeasurable.’

This stance is echoed by RCN Wales, which supports a Welsh assembly bill specifically calling for safe staffing levels to be introduced on all hospital wards in Wales.

Stage 2 of the four-stage bill was recently approved by the assembly’s health and social services committee and it will now pass to stage 3 for discussion and amendments by the whole assembly.

RCN Wales associate director (employment relations) Peter Meredith-Smith, commenting on the journal report, said: ‘Nurses frequently tell us about very distressing situations they have to cope with when there are not enough staff.

‘As well as having a detrimental impact on patient care and outcomes, the inadequate staffing of clinical areas also has a negative impact on nurses’ health, causing a rise in work-related stress and increasing sickness levels.

‘High quality patient care depends on the skills and experiences of nurses, a safe environment and safe nursing numbers.’

He added: ‘We are encouraging all of our assembly members to vote to support this bill.

 ‘Without a law like this, our lives and the lives of those we care about are being put at risk.’

Read the full report here

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