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Susan Osborne: Introduce mandated nurse-to-patient ratios before it is too late

At a time when the NHS is facing unprecedented demand, only nationally mandated ratios will determine the number of nurses required to provide safe and effective patient care, says Susan Osborne. 

At a time when the NHS is facing unprecedented demand, only nationally mandated ratios will determine the number of nurses required to provide safe and effective patient care, says Susan Osborne


A total 89% of NHS staff responding to a union survey would support mandatory
minimum nurse-to-patient ratios. Picture: iStock

On Tuesday, 7 February, NHS staff were asked by Unison to record nurse-to-patient ratios as part of the union’s sixth annual safe staffing survey. 

At a time when hospitals are facing unprecedented demand, staff were also asked to record any overtime worked, whether they took breaks and the number of bank and agency staff on their shift. 

Results from last year’s survey showed that almost half of respondents said their organisations were at risk of serious care failings, with an overwhelming 89% supporting nationally-set, mandatory minimum nurse-to-patient ratios. 

The consultation period on two safe staffing documents from the National Quality Board also closed in February, with no mention of mandated nurse-to-patient ratios. 

Estimations not good enough 

Senior nurse leaders at NHS England and NHS Improvement have made it clear that mandated levels are not an option. They say the problem lies with the registered nurse supply, but this is a spurious message. In California, 120,000 nurses returned to the front line following the introduction of mandated ratios. 

Only national mandated nurse-to-patient ratios will determine the actual number of nurses required to provide safe and effective services, and enable workforce planning to achieve and sustain these numbers. Local estimations are not good enough. 

I recently watched the BAFTA-award winning movie I, Daniel Blake. Protagonist Daniel was worn down by authorities that didn’t listen to him and denied him rightful benefits. His avoidable death came just before his appeal hearing: too little, too late. 

NHS leaders need to start listening to frontline staff now before the health service suffers the same fate as Daniel: another tragic, avoidable death.


About the author


 

 

 

Susan Osborne is chair of the Safe Staffing Alliance @SusanSSA 

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