Safer nursing standards unveiled as public fears shortages

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New standards for the safe work of nurses in hospitals, nursing homes and in the community were set by the Royal College of Nursing, for the first time in 100 years of history.

In order to underscore the safety-critical nature of expert healthcare nurses, the RCN hopes minimum standards will be used to force improvements in the staffing and treatment levels of nurses across the country by NHS trusts and other employers.

It comes as a new poll reveals a majority of adults believe there aren’t enough nurses to provide safe care. There are 50,000 vacant nursing positions in the NHS and research has repeatedly shown that having registered nurses improves patient safety.

A major study in 500 hospitals in 12 European countries found that for every additional patient a nurse had to care for, the patient’s risk of death increased by 7%. Other studies have shown that replacing graduate nurses with less qualified staff resulted in an increase in mortality of 21%.

Despite research, the UK government and NHS England have consistently opposed tighter nurse-patient ratios and invested in new roles without degrees to fill staffing gaps.

In an interview with The independent, RCN president Dame Anne Marie Rafferty, professor of nursing policy and advocate for safe staffing, said she hoped the standards would allow nurses to lobby for better working conditions.

She said nurses were “safety critical” and the best “insurance policy” to have in busy hospital wards.

“These standards are designed to give nurses expectations about what employers should be offering in the workplace. They cover a whole range of things that had never been included in any guide.

“They’re partly ambitious, inevitably, but they send a very clear signal and I think that gives nurses a really good set of checks, to come up with a clear judgment that they can then articulate to management.”

She warned the standards were needed because of the threat to post-pandemic nursing – with high levels of anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and some surveys showing up to a third of nurses considering leaving their profession. .

The new standards set out the expectations that hospitals and other employers must meet when planning their staffing levels. This includes detailed requirements on how rotations are designed, who should be included, and the involvement of chief graduate nurses. They also set out requirements for the health and welfare of nurses and their treatment at large.

The RCN, which is both a professional body and a union, said it would support any member who questioned their trust or employer if the standards were not met.

The standards could also be used in other contexts such as labor courts as well as surveys conducted by the Council of Nurses and Midwives or other regulatory bodies.

Wendy Preston, Head of Nursing Practice at RCN said The independent: “We sought to find out what professional orientation exists around the nursing workforce, and there is a real paucity of evidence.

“As a professional nursing body and the largest union, we felt we were in the best position to develop the standards. These are UK wide and they cover all parameters.

“Each nurse will be able to see where there is something in the standards that could be a lever for change with their own employer.

A new RCN survey found that one in four adults feared that they or their families were getting the care they needed due to understaffing, with 7 in 10 saying there was no did not have enough nurses to provide safe care.

RCN Acting Secretary General Pat Cullen said: “The survey shows patients are seeing nurses rushing around and wanting to know what is being done about it. At no time was this more evident than during the pandemic.

“The shortage of nurses in all specialties of the profession, in the NHS and the independent sector, compromises patient safety. These standards must be applied consistently across the UK.

“Nursing is the single most critical profession in health care safety and it is essential that we have the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time. “


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