ICU staffing levels affect high-risk patient outcomes

Higher numbers of doctors and nurses in the intensive care unit (ICU) could increase survival rates of high-risk patients, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies.

Researchers from the University of Greenwich examined whether the number of nurses, doctors and support staff affected the survival chances of critically ill patients in both the ICU and the hospital. They looked at information on 38,168 patients from 65 different ICUs around the United Kingdom, provided by the Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre Case Mix program from 1998, according to the study abstract.

Higher numbers of nurses per bed and consultants were associated with higher survival rates, according to the study, and the number of nurses had the greatest impact on patients at high risk of death, whereas the effect on medical staffing was unchanged across the range of patient acuity. There was no relationship between patient outcomes and the number of support staff, such as administrative or clerical workers. The clinical workforce in the ICU had a greater impact on ICU mortality than on hospital mortality, researchers wrote.

Medical and nursing staff's availability is associated with critically ill patients' survival, and there's an urgent need to further study the connection, the researchers concluded. Doctors and nurses work closely together and function as a team on ICUs more than on other wards, lead author Elizabeth West told HealthCanal. "Future studies need to see the whole picture and examine how the multi-disciplinary team works together," she said. 

Another study published online in the New England Journal of Medicine found nighttime intensivists don't benefit patients and may unnecessarily increase costs, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the HealthCanal article