Almost every hospital in England has fewer nurses on duty than each believes are needed to guarantee safe patient care, research shows.
Analysis of official data by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) found that 96% of NHS hospital trusts in England had fewer nurses covering day shifts in October than they had planned and 85% did not have the desired number working at night.
The disclosure of such widespread failure to ensure hospitals are properly staffed has prompted fresh concern that a chronic lack of nurses and the NHS's dire finances are putting patient safety at risk.
The college estimates there are as many as 24,000 vacancies for nurses across the UK. Nurses told the HSJ that understaffing meant hospitals were already providing substandard care, leading to patient safety "near misses".
The figures are the worst hospitals have recorded since they were obliged to start publishing details of staffing levels in 2013, in the wake of a report on the Mid Staffordshire care scandal.
The number of trusts that do not have planned numbers of staff at work has gone up despite the recruitment of record numbers of nurses by acute hospitals. Limits introduced in 2015 on the amount hospitals can pay to hire agency nurses may help explain why staffing levels are dropping in many places.
HSJ reached its conclusions by examining data on nurse staffing levels that trusts release through the NHS Choices website. These include the numbers present in general medical wards, maternity units, surgical wards and intensive care units at 214 acute hospitals.
In hospitals in England, a nurse is meant to look after no more than eight medical patients, and the ratio can be as low as one to one in neonatal and intensive care units.
The HSJ found that some trusts were employing unusually high numbers of healthcare assistants. That may suggest they are replacing nurses with cheaper personnel who have little clinical training.
Source: The Guardian