19 Nov 2013

Hospitals ordered to publish monthly staffing levels

Hospital bosses will have to publish the number of nurses on wards in response to the Mid Staffs scandal. But the government has stopped short of imposing minimum staffing levels.

Patients will be be able to access information about how many staff are working, and whether the numbers meet the recommended levels, on a new website, from next April.

The Department of Health said that trust boards will have to publicly examine staffing levels, a spokeswoman said.

The move forms part of the government’s formal response to a public inquiry into failings at Mid Staffordshire Trust. The inquiry, chaired by Robert Francis QC, highlighted the “appalling and unnecessary suffering” of hundreds of people at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2009.

Mr Francis made a total of 290 sweeping recommendations for healthcare regulators, providers and the government. One of the key suggestions was that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) should set out how many staff are needed on any type of ward at any time.

No minimum staffing levels

However the Department of Health has resisted setting minimum, national staffing levels. Instead it called on hospital boards to set levels locally using guidance issued by NHS England’s chief nurse that tells them what safe staffing should be.

We have a very clear evidence of a link between appropriate staffing and the outcomes of our patients. Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer

A department of health spokeswoman said that Nice will create guidance on the matter at a later date but will not suggest minimum staff to patient ratios.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) will inspect trusts and make sure they have the right numbers of staff, she added.

The news comes as Health Education England reported that NHS hospitals are planning to recruit 3,700 more nurses by the end of the financial year.

Patients will be able to see their hospital’s staffing levels on a new patient safety website. The new national safety website will include data on staffing numbers and other safety indicators including information on the number of “never events” – events that should never happen in the health service, such as a surgeon operating on the wrong part of the body or leaving medical kit inside a patient.

‘6,000 fewer nurses’

Jane Cummings, NHS England’s chief nursing officer, said: “We have a very clear evidence of a link between appropriate staffing and the outcomes of our patients. This evidence must be used to set staffing levels locally.

“Patients and the public are therefore entitled to know that we have the right number of people in place to provide safe, quality care every time.”

However Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said nurse levels had fallen under the coalition government. “There are today close to 6,000 fewer nurses in the NHS than when this government came to power…

“This new focus on recruitment is overdue but it shouldn’t have taken this long and it won’t be enough to repair the damage of three years of falling nurse numbers on David Cameron’s watch.”

The government’s initial response to the Francis inquiry saw the introduction of Oftsed-style ratings for hospitals. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also announced there would be a national blacklist of failing hospital bosses and proposed a “statutory duty of candour” for NHS providers so patients are fully informed when something goes wrong with their care.