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Patient care under threat as staffing crisis worsens

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Patient care in the UK is suffering thanks to government forced cuts to NHS budgets and perhaps most notably the decision to place a cap on pay for agency nurses.

Since the decision was taken last October, many hospitals have been forced to shut their doors or downgrade the services they offer.

Chorley hospital in Lancashire, is just one of the many to downgrade since the decision to cap pay for agency nurses was enforce. As a result, nearby Wigan A&E has been forced to turn away patients, because of an increase in admissions from people with Chorley postcodes.

This is fast becoming a problem that is besieging the NHS and as a result is restricting the standard of care that can be offered by English hospitals.

Jeanette Aspinall, Partner of Scott Rees & CoScott Rees & Co’s Head of Medical Negligence, Jeanette Aspinall, believes something has to be done about the staffing crisis, for the good of patient care.

Reacting to what has been happening at Wigan, she said:

This is a national problem that only seems to be getting worse. In February North Middlesex Hospital  were forced to send out a tannoy message in A&E asking people who were not seriously ill to go home.  A&E departments across the country were already struggling to meet waiting time targets and the introduction of the cap on locum doctor and nurse fees has exacerbated a staffing crisis amongst A&E departments, leaving gaps in rotas which cannot be filled.”

“Tales of ambulances queuing in hospital car parks, patients being left on trolleys for several hours and closure of A&E wards are being reported every day. The immense strain this has put on the remaining A&E wards can only impact negatively on the care being provided  and put patients at risk.  We at Scott Rees have seen a steady rise in claims relating to negligent medical treatment at A&E, some with devastating outcomes for the patients involved.”

While in England this problem continues to escalate, in Scotland , their first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has revealed plans to introduce new legislation that will “enshrine” safe NHS staffing levels into law.

Mrs Sturgeon is expected to announce her proposals at the Royal College of Nursing congress in Glasgow, and discussions regarding the plans are due to take place over the summer, with the aim of putting health staffing on a statutory basis.

With Scotland leading the way for the development of mandatory nursing and midwifery in the UK since 2007, surely it is time England and Wales followed suit, before more damage is done to patient safety by overcrowded hospitals.

With UK staffing levels suffering in recent years, many hospitals are having to deal with being understaffed and unequipped in certain regions. The leading public sector trade union, UNISON, conducted a report recently on staffing levels in hospitals, expressing deep concerns for UK hospitals and health practices.

The report shows that there is no doubt in UNISON members’ minds that a national minimum ratio should be set and legislated for.

It states: “There has to be a level of care below which standards must not fall. Every day, nurses and midwives are having to ration care, to decide on a shift by shift basis what care remains left undone. This is not a position they wish to be in, nor one of their choosing.”

The report goes on to say that even though the UK population has increased to over 60 million, the NHS capacity has decreased:

” We have fewer front-line nurses who work in acute trusts than ever before. There are fewer beds as managers have shut desperately needed wards down for “efficiency savings.”

The nurses and doctors involved in the study were reported as saying they were ‘desperate’ and in need of better funding. They also claimed that they needed greater resources in order for them to give the best patient care possible. Worryingly, some participants suggested that they felt that patient care would be compromised if NHS legislation and budget cuts remained in place.

Image Source

1. Lewis Clarke [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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