A major investigation into nursing has indicated that almost every acute hospital in England is currently failing to meet staffing targets.
96% of the 214 acute hospitals that responded to the survey are currently failing to achieve their nursing staff targets.
While 85% missed their target for nurses working at night in the same month.
This decline in nurses can be considered particularly worrying, as it comes in a climate in which there are record numbers of nurses recruited to the acute sector.
Diminishing statistics in this area of the NHS seem to correlate strongly with stringent limits being placed on agency spending back in April.
This would seem to suggest that there has been a significant fall in the number of agency staff located on hospital wards, effectively making it more difficult for trusts to plan nurse staffing levels.
Nurses have indicated that hospitals are frequently delivering substandard care due to staff shortages, with practices such as ‘one-upping’ becoming commonplace.
Over 150 hospitals have failed to achieve planned daytime and staffing levels from Q4 2014-15 to Q3 2016-17.
And 79 hospitals had less than 90% of planned nurse staffing in daytime hours during October 2016.
Many sites are instead opting for healthcare assistants to plug the gaps in rotors, suggesting that less qualified staff are being relied upon.
Some experts believe that this could lead analysis of the healthcare system to conclude that everything is running adequately; Essentially a false reassurance achieved via the utilisation of HCAs.
Professor Peter Griffiths, from Southampton University, also involved in the NHS Improvement staffing committee, commented on the issue, suggesting that utilising healthcare assistants to ease the nursing crisis may be acceptable, but improvements clearly need to be made overall.
“If that becomes a long term approach to filling gaps you could very easily delude yourself that you’re maintaining safety because you’re maintaining numbers. But actually all the research shows the key workforce for maintaining the safety of patients is the registered nursing workforce, so there is the risk of a false reassurance.”
While Professor Alison Leary, head of workforce modelling at London South Bank University, indicated that the levels of nurses working in the NHS system must clearly be increased.
“The overall trend shows organisations bolstering nurse gaps with HCAs. This might seem like the only practical solution at the time and could be seen as someone being better than no one. However, when that becomes the norm, we have to consider the inherent risk given the evidence that registered nurses have direct benefits for patient safety. Added to this is how trusts worked out staffing in the first place – 80 per cent staffing might be tolerable in areas that have carefully thought through staffing and the risk, but 80 per cent on much lower establishments is concerning.”