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Medical Negligence specialist Paul Sankey on the shortage of nurses and failing patient care

Too few nurses in hospital wards has led to poor care and harm to patients. Recent research by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) suggests that on average one nurse cares for nine patients in NHS hospitals whereas the ratio should be one to seven, or even only one to five for older patients. 59% of patients did not receive enough help with mobility and 34% did not have help with eating and drinking.
These are worrying figures. Patients who need help to walk are at risk of falling and a particular problem in hospitals is elderly patients breaking their hip. Aside from the human cost of serious injury - a broken hip can lead to the need for long term care, the financial cost of treatment and care means that cutting nursing staff is a false economy. Similarly people recovering from illness or surgery need good nutrition. Elderly people also with poor nutrition are at greater risk of painful and disabling pressure sores. If 34% are not getting fed because no one is there to help them, something is seriously wrong with our hospital system.
So I welcome the RCN’s call for guaranteed minimum numbers of nurses on wards. Better staff numbers would mean better results for patients, shorter stays in hospital, better health and less need for care after discharge from hospital. It would also lead to fewer patients suffering avoidable injury from falls and pressure sores in particular. In many of the cases of negligence I investigate poor nursing care plays a role. This is not always the fault of the nurses themselves: it is often that there simply are not enough of them.


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