Some hospital wards 'left with one nurse'
Published on 20 November 2013 02:00 PM
The Royal College of Nursing has warned that some NHS hospital wards have just one nurse on duty overnight.
The organisation made Freedom of Information requests about staffing after members of the public reported nurses being left with a whole ward to look after and only the help of one healthcare assistant.
Acute hospital trusts in the East of England were asked what staff they had in place on January 14, a night picked randomly.
The resulting information also revealed a heavy reliance on temporary staff for night shift work, the RCN said.
West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust and Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust initially said they didn't want to give the information.
Colchester Hospital is being investigated by police over claims that cancer waiting times have been falsified.
Hospitals ‘relied on hundreds of temporary staff'
An RCN report based on the results said five hospitals, from three of the 18 local hospital trusts, had wards of inpatients covered by a lone registered nurse on the date in question.
There was an establishment that wards should have two registered nurses and one healthcare assistant, the report said, and using a lone nurse 'would result in delays for patients receiving pain relief and intravenous fluids.'
It said that 'at best' the situation meant outcomes for patients on wards with just one nurse on duty that night should have been classed as 'near miss clinical incidents.'
Nurses were 'looking after wards single-handedly'
The report said 'all hospitals were struggling to cover night shifts and relied on hundreds of temporary staff (bank and agency nursing staff plus locum doctors),' with 573 temporary staff on duty overnight on January 13 over the 18 trusts.
The RCN said it did the research after hearing 'anecdotally' that in some hospitals nurses were 'looking after wards single-handedly' and 'covering at night to support inexperienced junior doctors' because there wasn't enough top-level oversight.
The Safe Staffing Alliance, of which the RCN is a member, says one nurse should only have eight patients to care for at once.
Research conducted by Southampton University on general acute wards during the day found there would be about 20 more deaths annually at hospitals that didn't meet that staffing ratio.
Copyright Press Association 2013