Calls for minimum NHS staffing levels

The report called for political parties to commit to developing and implementing minimum staffing levels within hospital settings. Picture: TSPL
The report called for political parties to commit to developing and implementing minimum staffing levels within hospital settings. Picture: TSPL
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A DOCTORS’ organisation is calling on all political parties to commit to minimum staffing levels within the NHS to prevent serious failings in care.

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) said that major cultural change was needed within the NHS to improve the service.

In an editorial published today, the RCPE reviews the reports of 10 major inquiries and reviews into serious failings in care in the UK since 2000, including Mid Staffordshire, Bristol, Lanarkshire and the Vale of Leven.

The editorial’s authors said it did not appear the NHS was learning all it could from failures or making the most of opportunities they offered for improvement.

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The article, by RCPE President Prof Derek Bell and the Chair of the RCPE Lay Advisory Group and former Chief Nursing Officer for Scotland, Anne Jarvie, made six recommendations.

It called for all political parties to commit to developing and implementing minimum staffing levels for all professions within hospital settings as a policy priority.

It said: “We need to develop minimum staffing levels for doctors in the medical specialties and other professions in hospitals and this is urgently required for medical staff for out of hours including weekends and Hospital at Night rotas.

“There is strong evidence to show the increased risk of death and poorer outcomes in patients when treated out of hours when staff capacity is reduced, and a solid case for developing seven-day working.

“Returning to the experience of the aviation industry, we would not expect passengers to accept a higher risk of their flight crashing in the evenings or at weekends due to reduced staffing or inexperience, so why should patients accept this for their NHS?”

Other recommendations included that managers should be encouraged to support professionals in their clinical decision-making and should work within Boards and Trusts to foster a supportive environment for staff.

It also recommended that doctors, nurses and other health professionals should be reminded of their value to the NHS and of their responsibility to provide the highest quality of care to patients

Professor Bell said: “Doctors, patients and the wider public care passionately about the NHS throughout the UK.

“While there are no guarantees, and further failings in care may emerge, the potential for ‘where next?’ will only reduce if we work collectively and collaboratively to strengthen the NHS which we all value greatly.

“This will not be easy and will require incremental change and recognition of what can be improved through regulation and what will require staff engagement and cultural change.

“As a starting point, we wish to work with the leaders of all political parties in the UK and will be asking them to publicly commit, before the General Election, to implementing minimum staffing levels within the NHS.

“In parallel, we will engage with other stakeholders including patients, the medical and nursing professions, NHS managers, NHS Boards and Trusts to work collectively to address the issues raised.”

Different aspects of the authors’ proposals have been welcomed by leading patient, health and legal figures including Dr Jean Turner (former executive director, Scotland’s Patients’ Association), Nigel Edwards (chief executive, the Nuffield Trust), the Rt Hon Lord MacLean (chair of the Vale of Leven Hospital Inquiry) and Peter Lees (chief executive and medical director, Faculty of Medical Leadership & Management).

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