Tensions over safe staffing levels reignited by NHS letter

Safe Staffing Alliance demands to know who is in charge of drawing up guidance 

The row over safe staffing levels has reignited after a letter was sent to NHS chief executives in which the 1:8 ratio of nurses to patients was called a ‘guide not a requirement’.

It has been signed by NHS Improvement, NHS England, chief nursing officer (CNO) for England Jane Cummings as well as the chief inspector of hospitals and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

The signatories insist the responsibility for safe staffing remains, as it always has, with individual trust boards and add: ‘Trusts are responsible for ensuring that they get the balance right by neither understaffing nor over-spending, and are able to secure the right complement of clinical staff to meet local patient need and circumstances.’

Tensions were already high after it was revealed Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s office appeared to have exerted pressure on NICE not to publish its early research into safe staffing back in the summer.

In response, the Safe Staffing Alliance has written its own letter to the Times newspaper in which its members urge people not to be ‘sucked into blaming the current NHS financial pressures on the absolutely justified increase in nurse staffing levels' or playing 'pass the parcel' with this vital issue.

It also demands to know who is in charge of drawing up the actual guidance on safe staffing after the responsibility changed first from NICE to NHS Improvement with input from Ms Cummings and now appears to have passed to Lord Carter’s Model Hospital review.

RCN’s head of policy Howard Catton added: ‘There’s a risk that people in the NHS may interpret this letter as a green light to row back on safe staffing when the NHS’s finances are in the perilous state that they are.'

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