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Suspension of NICE safe staffing work 'should be reviewed'

RCN head of policy says royal colleges and regulators should challenge decision

The decision to suspend the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence's (NICE) work on safe staffing guidelines should be reviewed, according to the RCN head of policy.

Speaking at an event on safe staffing in London, Howard Catton said the royal colleges, healthcare regulators and NHS providers must be involved in any review of the decision.

NICE announced last week that it would halt its work on safe staffing after NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said this area should instead be part of NHS England’s reviews of urgent and emergency care, maternity and mental health services. The announcement has provoked a storm of protest from nurses. 

NICE's work on guidance for staffing in community and mental health settings was part of a programme of nine guidelines commissioned by the Department of Health in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust inquiry. Sir Robert Francis's report on the inquiry, published in February 2013, linked the care failings at Stafford Hospital to chronic understaffing and recommended that NICE develop guidelines for minimum staff numbers and skill mix in different settings.

Mr Catton said the RCN had not been aware in advance of last week's announcement to halt the work. Speaking at the conference, he said: 'Given the importance of what Robert Francis had to say about safe staffing levels, I think there is a place to review the decision to suspend NICE.'

England's chief nurse Jane Cummings wrote to Mr Stevens and Health Education England chief executive Ian Cumming before the announcement to suggest a more holistic approach to staffing rather than focusing on nurse numbers.

Mr Catton said there is a 'hugely important role' for Ms Cummings and her team in ongoing work on safe staffing.

After the annoucement, NICE chief executive Andrew Dillon said the organisation 'stands ready to support this work using the experience we have gained over the last two years'.

Safe Staffing Alliance chair Susan Osborne said the organisation's website will launch a petition demanding the NICE programme start again.

Go to the Safe Staffing Alliance website

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