UK & World News
NHS To Monitor Nurses For 'Red Flag' Errors
Hospitals have been issued with a new checklist that should ensure they have enough nurses to provide safe care.
The NHS watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said all hospitals in England should monitor for "red flag" events that indicate staff are under too much pressure.
They include forgetting a patient's medication, failing to check patients are eating and drinking enough, and omitting to regularly turn immobile patients to reduce the risk of pressure sores.
Any ward manager should be able to respond to red flag events by calling for immediate back-up from other departments, according to new guidelines.
If it happens too often, managers will have to recruit more staff.
"The point of a red flag is that additional staff are required pretty urgently on the ward to make sure that those key things are delivered," said Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at Nice.
The watchdog rejected calls to set a national staffing ratio.
It says a target of one nurse to eight patients is too rigid. Some patients - such as the elderly - need far more care than others.
Professor†Leng added: "Safe staffing is more complex than setting a single ratio.
"The emphasis should not just be on the available number of staff, it should be on delivering safe patient care and making sure that hospital management and nursing staff are absolutely clear on best practice to do this."
The guidance was welcomed by the Royal College of Nursing.
Chief Executive Dr Peter Carter said: "The needs of patients should be the only thing determining staffing levels - not finances.
"Patient care must not be compromised because of short-term financial cuts and a minimum safe staffing level should not become a default staffing level."
Nice estimates that hiring extra nurses to meet safe staffing levels will cost £200m.
But the better quality care they will provide will save £1bn by reducing pressure sores and another £700m by preventing wound infections.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "Recent years have seen a big jump in nursing numbers in hospital wards, with 6,200 more nurses since 2010. Today's guidance will help the NHS use staff as effectively as possible."
Labour's shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "Hospitals across England are operating way beyond recommended capacity levels and, because of this, too many do not have enough staff to provide safe care.
"In the last year, inspectors failed one in six hospitals for not having adequate numbers of staff."