It has long been argued that when there are not enough nurses on staff, patient safety suffers. That theory has just been confirmed by a new study published in the British Medical Journal. According to lead researcher Jane Ball of Southampton University, when nurses are responsible for 10 or more patients at once, there is a 20% greater chance that a patient will die. That risk is greatly reduced when the nurse is responsible for 6 patients or fewer. The research team further found increasing the number of available healthcare assistants rather than nurses had no effect on the mortality rate.
The results, Ball told the Telegraph, demonstrate why hospital leaders should prioritize patient safety over their bottom lines. “When determining the safety of nurse staffing on hospital wards, the level of registered nurse staffing is crucial; hospitals with higher levels of healthcare support workers have higher mortality rates,” she said. “Patients should not be asked to pay the price of receiving care from a less skilled and less educated member of staff, just to make up for the failure of the system to ensure enough registered nurses.”
These results back up similar research conducted in the U.S., including a 2013 study that found nursing staff ratios directly affect readmissions at pediatric hospitals. Nurses in several states, including New Jersey, Minnesota and Oregon, have lobbied extensively to impose mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios, while opponents of such measures have argued hospitals can achieve similar improvements at lower cost.
Over the course of years, we have observed that while doctors are ultimately responsible for various oversights, nurses are often the first to catch (or miss) mistakes. Various medical malpractice cases in Middlesex County, NJ have involved nurses as well as doctors. Once can only hope that medical providers learn from mistakes and adequately staff nurses so that patients receive adequate attention and care.