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Patients at Risk from Nurse Shortages as Affordability is Put Above Need, Warns Nursing Expert

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Hospitals will soon face an acute crisis in patient care unless cuts in nurse training places are reversed immediately, a nursing expert has warned.

Nationwide reductions in funding for nurse training, over recent years, have begun to bite this summer, with a big dip in the number of newly graduated nurses entering the workforce.

It is too late to rectify the training place cuts of the past three years, but there needs to be an urgent rethink going forward if we are to prevent a crisis in care, argues Dr Jan Quallington, Head of the Institute of Health and Society at the University of Worcester and a member of the steering group for the Centre for Ethical Leadership.

Writing in this week's Nursing Times, she warns: “Too few nurses are being asked to do too much and without a clear and effective strategy for recruitment and retention, I fear we could be faced with another crisis of care.”

Dr Quallington calls for a national debate on the cost of safe, high quality patient care – and whether the public is prepared to pay for it.

Financial restrictions on some hospital trusts are forcing them to put affordability above patient need, she says. To make the books balance while meeting essential staffing levels some trusts are under-estimating in their financial reporting the number of nurses they will need. Care needs to be provided, and this need is being met by significantly more expensive alternatives.

As a result many trusts are left paying the high price of recruiting nurses from overseas or from agencies to fill staff shortages.

She writes: “In the wake of the Francis Report (2013) into the failings in care at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, the public were assured that such problems across the NHS would be rectified and a review of staffing levels and a better ratio of nurses to patients was recommended. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has now endorsed the Safer Nursing Care Tool (SNCT) as an acuity-based toolkit to be used alongside the NICE Guidelines on safe staffing. The presumption is that anything less than one to nurse to eight patients should trigger a possible ‘red flag’ cause for concern. While this is a step in the right direction, the guidance is not yet mandatory and does not identify where the extra nurses to meet the safer staffing levels will come from.

“There is now overwhelming evidence to suggest that if the number of nurses does not increase within the next two or three years we can expect a significant impact on standards of patient care.”