Short-staffing of nurses hikes patient mortality by 20 percent

Nurse advocates have long argued that improved staffing ratios boost patient safety, and a new study published in the British Medical Journal backs that up, finding that patients are at much higher risk of death when their nurse is responsible for more than six patients at once.

Researchers, led by Jane Ball of Southampton University, analyzed data from 137 National Health Service acute care trusts over a two-year period, measuring ratios of occupied beds to nurses and doctors. They found that for nurses with caseloads of at least 10 patients, risk of patient death is 20 percent higher than for patients whose nurses have caseloads of six or fewer. Ball and her team further found increasing the number of available healthcare assistants rather than nurses had no effect on the mortality rate.

The results, Ball told the Telegraph, demonstrate why hospital leaders should prioritize patient safety over their bottom lines. "When determining the safety of nurse staffing on hospital wards, the level of registered nurse staffing is crucial; hospitals with higher levels of healthcare support workers have higher mortality rates," she said. "Patients should not be asked to pay the price of receiving care from a less skilled and less educated member of staff, just to make up for the failure of the system to ensure enough registered nurses."

These results back up similar research conducted in the U.S., including a 2013 study that found nursing staff ratios directly affect readmissions at pediatric hospitals. Nurses in several states, including New Jersey, Minnesota and Oregon, have lobbied extensively to impose mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios, while opponents of such measures have argued hospitals can achieve similar improvements at lower cost, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

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