New study links patient deaths with staff levels

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Research published by the British Journal of Anaesthesia shows improved patient outcomes for Trusts that are better resourced with higher staffing and bed numbers.

In the new study, researchers from St George's Hospital in London analysed data from almost 295,000 emergency admissions to 156 NHS Trusts to look for associations between mortality and structure and process measures including medical and nursing staffing levels, critical care and operating theatre availability, radiology utilization, teaching hospital status and weekend admissions.

Significantly higher mortality rates were seen in Trusts with fewer general surgical doctors and with lower nursing staff ratios, as well as in patients admitted to hospital at weekends. The lowest mortality rates were observed in those Trusts with higher levels of medical and nursing staff, and a greater number of operating theatres and critical care beds relative to provider size. 

In response to the new data, Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: ‘The findings suggest that more investment in hospital staff, beds and resources yields better outcomes for patients. This is in line with the BMA’s calls for greater investment in urgent and emergency care to ensure patients have access to high-quality care, seven days a week.’

He went on to explain: ‘Doctors of all grades work around the clock to provide emergency care. This paper shows that a shortage of resources across the board – doctors, nurses, hospital beds, operating theatres – is associated with poorer outcomes. The medical profession has been reporting this for decades but successive governments have overseen a reduction in the number of hospital beds and the current government is failing to provide the investment the NHS needs, with spending on healthcare falling behind that of other developed countries.’

Dr Porter added: ‘Crucially, improving weekend care cannot be achieved by simply spreading five days’ worth of resource over seven. Better outcomes come with better investment in staff, beds and resources, as well as ensuring support services are in place across seven days.’