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What are safe nurse-to-patient ratios?

A nurse-to-patient ratio is the number of nurses working on a ward or unit in relation to the number of patients they care for.

Good nurse-to-patient ratios ensure a safe level of care and decrease the risk of patients dying. Without the right standard of ratios, patients across NSW are missing out on thousands of hours of much needed nursing care.

Ratios save lives

Research shows a direct correlation between nurse staffing levels and improved patient outcomes.

Every additional patient per nurse can increase the likelihood of dying by 7%1.

There aren’t enough nurses to patients and it’s risking lives. Nurses and midwives are worked off their feet. In a 2018 survey of 2,500 nurses and midwives, 67% said they have recently considered leaving the profession due to unsafe workloads.

We need better ratios to safeguard the future of our public health system. The staffing system as it currently stands isn’t transparent enough to deliver safe patient care.

What’s happening in other states?

Victoria and Queensland have made nurse-to-patient ratios law. NSW should be leading, not lagging behind.

Research points to ratios

According to international research:

• Every additional full-time qualified nurse per shift reduced the likelihood of surgical patients dying by 7%1.

• Each 10% increase in nurses with a degree level qualification is associated with a 9% decrease in patient deaths2.

• Increasing the patient load of a nurse, even by one, is associated with:

• 53% increase in respiratory failure3
• 7% increased risk of hospital-acquired pneumonia3.


1 Aiken, L.H. et al. (2014). Nurse staffing and education and hospital mortality in nine European countries: a retrospective observational study
2 Eunhee et al. (2015) ‘Effects of nurse staffing, work environments and education on patient mortality: An observational study’, International Journal of Nursing Studies, vol. 52, no. 2
3 Kane et al. (2007). Nurse staffing and quality of patient care, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Publication No. 07-E005