By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief
According to an article at Nursing Times, hospitals in England may be required to publish “nurse-to-bed” ratios as part of an overall “dashboard” of indicators to measure performance. While some say this is a step forward, UNISON, the public service union that represents nurses, argues that the better ratio to measure is nurse-to-patient and that variables in patient acuity should also be considered.
Nurse staffing has become an issue in National Health Service hospitals and in April UNISON released results of a survey of over 1,500 nurses and other health care workers about their shifts during the 24-hour period of March 6. The vast majority of respondents (73%) felt they did not have “enough time to spend with patients to deliver dignified, safe, compassionate care.” The Royal College of Nursing also supports mandatory safe-staffing ratios that take into account the skill mix of RNs to “health care support workers” or nursing assistants.
Here in the United States, California is the only state to achieve any legislation for mandatory hospital staffing and it is a “minimum” nurse-to-patient ratio. While similar legislation has been introduced in a few other states and nationally, it hasn’t advanced.
The ANA does not support mandatory minimum ratios per se, noting in its Principles for Nurse Staffing (2nd edition), released earlier this month, “The solution is not as simple as increasing the number of nurses beyond what is minimally necessary.” The ANA advocates for a “nurse-directed” approach that includes minimum ratios but also takes into account patient acuity, the setting, and the skill set and mix of staff.
At the recent House of Delegates meeting, the ANA reaffirmed that safe staffing is a “top priority.” (Read the press release.) And in a December 16, 2011, letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the ANA advocated for public posting of “hospital staffing plans” that take into account patient acuity, mix of staffing, and other factors, with these staffing plans to be modified as needed according to measurable patient outcomes—but did not necessarily call for staffing ratios.