Unsafe staffing levels in hospitals put patients at risk

Posted: 16/01/2013


Stark warnings from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) this week have indicated that a number of NHS hospitals are operating without enough staff to keep patients safe.

Whilst not all wards were visited, a total of 17 out of 26 hospitals failed to come up to the required levels; with some of the inspections taking place as recently as November.

The findings have caused much controversy, particularly in light of recent figures which suggest that there are now more clinical staff working across the NHS than there were nearly three years ago. The warnings have indicated these low levels of staffing meant that the healthcare providers are failing 'to keep people safe and meet their health and welfare needs'.

A report into one hospital described dementia patients as being unable to communicate what they needed, including not being able to reach drinks or access warm clothes. Staff are reported to have not noticed some patients discomfort, whilst another separate report suggests that midwives appeared to lack basic skills and therefore women giving birth were exposed to unnecessary risks.

According to the CQC, the hospitals and relevant trusts have been informed, and are required to demonstrate how they will meet their standard for staffing levels, with deadlines having been set for improvement.

Whilst these findings will cause great concern to a number of patients at the offending hospitals, policitians have also waded into what looks set to be a controversial topic.

Labour, who released the information, have claimed that the findings reflect the impact of re-organisations and cuts on the NHS, and argue that nursing numbers have decreased by nearly 7000 since the coalition came to power. Speaking on Sunday, Labour leader Ed Miliiband described the figures as 'shocking' whilst others have accused the Government of putting the blame on already over-stretched nurses.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, on the other hand has come forward and stated that 'there is no excuse for not providing appropriate staff levels', promising an extra £12.5 billion to be put into the health service by 2015.

It is not only hospitals that have been named and shamed, but the London Ambulance Service and eight mental health trusts have also been implicated by the CQC.

Some hospitals, however, dispute the claims that patient safety is being put at risk. The Walton Centre in Liverpool has argued that it has high staff numbers compared to patients, whilst another treating establishment claims to have patient safety as its upmost priority.

Whilst the CQC looks set to carry out further inspections and to continue to publish the findings, Alison Appelboam-Meadows, partner at Penningtons, hopes that these recent warnings will provide the impetus for other hospitals to ensure they continue to increase staffing levels and provide the best patient care possible.

For more information, including the hospitals listed, see the Sunday Telegraph’s webpage.


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