Patients benefit from higher staff levels
Julie Robotham, SMH
November 25, 2010
ADEQUATE numbers of well-qualified nurses make a demonstrable difference to the speed of patients' recovery and their likelihood of complications, a growing body of international research clearly shows.
In the latest study, published last month, researchers from the Connecticut Children's Medical Centre found premature babies in neonatal intensive care units achieved higher blood oxygen levels - linked to lower brain-damage risk - when there was a higher number of nurses to infants on the ward.
Earlier this year US doctors found intensive care patients were at higher risk of their ventilator tubes becoming dislodged if they were cared for at a ratio of one nurse to three patients instead of the more widely recommended 1:2.
Advertisement: Story continues below The NSW Nurses' Association's call for a ratio of 1:4 for most ordinary surgical and medical wards is based on a large survey of US hospital patients, by Linda Aiken from the University of Pennsylvania school of nursing.
Professor Aiken examined how patients nursed in a 1:4 ratio fared compared with those who shared one nurse between eight patients. She found people in the latter group were 30 per cent more likely to die.
But Christine Duffield, associate dean of research in nursing faculty of the University of Technology, Sydney, said the 1:4 recommendation, ''should only ever be the floor, not the ceiling,'' and higher numbers of more highly qualified nurses would inevitably benefit patients.
Professor Duffield's 2007 study of the state's nursing workforce found nurse-to-patient ratios were inconsistent between hospitals and across the working day - with as many as 12 patients for each registered nurse during the night shift.
But the situation was likely to have deteriorated since then, she said, because of NSW Health's policy of using a greater number of less-qualified enrolled nurses and assistants in nursing.