There are plenty of signs that staffing levels in NHS Hospitals are too low amid the pressure on hospitals to create efficiency savings.
The Parliamentary Health Select Committee is concerned about this and recommends that NHS Trusts should publicise staffing levels on every ward and then publish daily ratios of staff to patients. Their recommendation is a response to the Francis review of poor care at Mid Staffordshire Hospital Foundation Trust where levels of nursing and other care were found wanting.
Ironically at the same time there is news that most NHS managers think the savings they are required to make are unrealistic and put staff levels under too much strain. A recent survey by The Kings Fund suggests that the number of hospitals expecting to meet their new targets have dropped from three quarters to one third in a year. One manager commented that efficiency savings have already cut too deeply into the front line. In effect vital patient care is being cut because the money is not there to keep patients safe.
The experience of our Clinical & Medical Negligence team is that low staff levels on wards is harming patients. In 2 recent cases they have resulted in patient deaths. In one case a woman who had just undergone surgery after she had caused herself serious injuries in attempting suicide took her own life whilst on the surgical ward. Nursing staff had failed to take seriously her risk of suicide but there were in any event too few to keep an eye on her.
In another case of Hospital Neglect a woman recovering from gallbladder surgery bled to death overnight. Nurses were supposed to carry out regular observations but on a short-staffed ward she was ignored altogether and when observations were done at 7am she was found to have died during the night.
The most recent government focus is on improving ‘leadership’ in the management of our hospitals. That may be necessary but without the money or the staff no amount of leadership will keep patients safe.