English study links lack of RNs with an increase in deaths

A similar large-scale and respected study conducted in English hospitals found a direct, statistical link between nurse staffing levels and patient outcomes.

The study focussed on medical and surgical ward-based RNs holding clinical caseloads. It found that had all general surgery patients in the sample been treated in hospitals with optimal staffing levels, 246 patient deaths could have been avoided.

The study also found a link between nurse-staffing levels and nurse satisfaction, burnout and quality of care. A key conclusion was it may be false economy to reduce the ratio of skilled nurses to patients. This challenges the widespread worldwide obsession with reducing costs.

The study was part of an international collaborative research enterprise where evidence from other countries backed the conclusions from the English research.

The study posed a key question: (a nurse) shortage is not just about numbers but about how the health system functions to enable nurses to use their skills effectively.

It suggests we need to know more about how nurses are deployed and how they apportion their time. We need to know how much of their time is spent on direct patient care compared to administrative duties and engagement with their colleagues.