Safe staffing being 'swept under the carpet', claims campaigner

Safe Staffing Alliance chair criticises NICE for denying the public access to key information

A safe staffing campaigner has criticised the time it is taking to decide whether information on nurse numbers in England should be made public.

Safe Staffing Alliance chair Susan Osborne was reacting to the news two non-executive directors of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence were meeting today to examine the reasons NICE has resisted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to public its evidence on staffing and patient safety.

Four evidence reviews of safe nurse staffing levels, including in community and mental health services, have remained unpublished and NICE's work on the issue was abandoned last June.

NHS Improvement, along with England's chief nursing officer Jane Cummings have taken on the work, but will consider staffing across professions rather than focusing on nursing. 

An FOI request from the Health Service Journal to publish the evidence reviews was rejected by NICE because such disclosures 'would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs'.

NICE had been due to publish its guidance on staffing in accident and emergency departments in July, which followed on from its guidance on staffing in adult acute wards and in maternity. It decided not to publish because it said the evidence would form part of NHS Improvement's ongoing review.

Ms Osborne said: ‘We think it was shelved simply because it would have proved how the majority of A&E departments are seriously under-staffed and would set a precedent for other types of ward.

‘The work NHS Improvement is doing doesn’t start until April and will take a multi-professional approach rather than focus only on nursing staff, as well as avoiding setting minimum nurses-to-patient ratios.

‘This all seems to prove that safe staffing is just going to be swept under the carpet.’

A NICE spokesperson said the information it withheld was exempt from disclosure under section 36 of the FOI Act. The organisation maintains there is the 'the potential to disrupt the effective management of the health service by publishing the evidence reviews at this time'.

Earlier, chief executive Sir Andrew Dillon said: 'Publication is likely to give rise to further public interest and generate enquiries about the work, which has the potential to delay NHS Improvement’s work.

'Safe staffing is very much a live issue for the NHS and we believe it’s important that NHS Improvement has safe space to develop and reach its own conclusions as it develops its guidelines. Disclosure at this stage would likely make it harder for NHS Improvement to undertake their work.'


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