Safer staffing should always be on the nursing agenda

NHS Improvement has launched the Safer Staffing Faculty and Fellowship Programme

NHS Improvement has launched the Safer Staffing Faculty and Fellowship Programme to embed use of the Safer Nursing Care Tool

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We are all aware of the increasing emphasis on safer staffing in recent years, but staffing that makes good quality patient care deliverable has been on nurses and midwives’ professional agenda for decades.

My professional interest in the development of a safer staffing tool began when I was a chief nurse in Coventry, where nurses were being asked to support their case for ensuring the right number of skilled staff were in place.

It was frustrating to carry on rolling forward the same rotas in the same care settings when we knew patients were getting sicker, and needed more or different care, but we had no way to articulate this.

So in 2000 the Safer Nursing Care Tool (SNCT) was created. It has had different names since then, but its purpose – to demonstrate that, however things change, wards, clinics, departments and communities must be staffed to meet the needs of patients safely – has remained unchanged.

Nursing input

This kind of work is never finished because patients and their needs are always changing. Since the SNCT was devised, its improvement has been driven by feedback from nurses across the country.

Nurses have helped us develop, test and improve the tool so it can measure how much care patients need, the mix of staff required to deliver this care around the clock and anything else they think is important.

There has been a great deal of support and endorsement over the years, and this has enabled us to continue this work. However, lack of infrastructure in some areas has made the correct application of the tool difficult.

In response to this problem, NHS Improvement launched in February the Safer Staffing Faculty and Fellowship Programme. Its aim is to ensure that everyone who needs the SNCT can access it and knows how to use it correctly. This includes understanding the importance of context so that outputs are reliable and can stand up to scrutiny.

The programme aims to equip nurses with a broad knowledge and comprehensive insight into many different aspects of workforce and staffing models, including efficiency, safety and effectiveness, which affect the overall experience of patients and staff.

Education and training

Other areas covered by the tool include the wider aspects of the care setting and care team, issues of leadership, the organisation of work, and the importance of education and training. All areas are discussed in the recently published National Institute for Health Research review, Staffing on Wards.

The first cohort of the programme is now underway. Current fellows are from posts where workforce is part of their role, but they come from different backgrounds and can learn from each other’s experiences. Their early feedback has been positive and we are looking forward to drawing on it to develop the programme further. 

Ruth May

Cohort 2 started on 22 May and, as fellows progress through the programme, we are looking forward to seeing them emerge as champions in their regions.

In recognition of the importance of workforce issues to the NHS, the programme has been endorsed by chief nursing officer for England Ruth May and her team, and NHS Improvement has also published a collection of resources on safer staffing.

To read more from others involved in the faculty and the programme, watch this space.

Find out more

About the author

Hilary_ChapmaDame Hilary Chapman is former chief nurse at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and an adviser to the NHS Improvement safer staffing faculty programme

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