Nurse staff are essential to any hospital, community, or facility that offers health care. They provide acute care for patients in emergency rooms and intensive care units and administer medicine and other everyday necessities in health care settings across the country.
However, nurses are frequently overworked and under-supported as health care providers aim to reduce expenses and improve their bottom line. The recent pandemic has further highlighted the importance of safe staffing for nurses and ensuring that health care systems are well-equipped to respond effectively to public health emergencies.
Unfortunately, nurse staffing will become an increasing worry for healthcare facilities as the industry struggles to recover in this challenging economic environment, and demand for healthcare services continues to increase.
How do healthcare facilities maintain a safe and appropriate level of staffing for nurses while remaining competitive and financially viable? The solution will likely require a multi-pronged approach that prioritises staffing and evaluates internal and external factors that can impact staffing decisions.
What is safe staffing?
Safe nurse staffing means maintaining an adequate number of staff throughout healthcare delivery. The core objective of safe nurse staffing is to guarantee that patient care needs are addressed and that the working environment and conditions support the team in providing the highest quality of care possible.
“Safe staffing levels aren’t just about numbers – they’re about skilled and experienced staff operating within clear, agreed, and ethical care plans. They’re also about having a low turnover so that staff actually stay long enough to form effective relationships with residents.” – Jason Denny, Registered Home Manager, Old Hastings House.
Healthcare providers that get safe nurse staffing right can ensure individuals will receive safe, effective care and assistance that is sensitive to their needs, not just a good inspection rating. If you make a mistake, you could endanger your personnel and the clients you help.
For instance, when workers are scarce, and service pressures rise, employees may have to prioritise which patients receive care and which do not. These circumstances can result in patients being neglected while also increasing the risk of a safety event that could lead to an unfavourable audit. Any such negative audit means potential brand damage to your business.
Ultimately, it is up to healthcare managers to ensure that their facilities have an adequate number of skilled, trained, and qualified nursing staff so that patient care needs are prioritised and patients remain the centre of the clinical service.
Factors affecting safe nurse staffing levels
There are some common characteristics of services that have inadequate staffing. If some, or all, of these apply to your service, this could indicate you’re not meeting safe nursing staff requirements:
- There is a high rate of employee turnover.
- The facility struggles to recruit sufficient nursing staff.
- The existing nursing staff are experiencing high-stress levels and burnout.
- The systems and procedures for the rota are disorganised, making them difficult to use and review
- The staff only has time to carry out their assigned duties and tasks, leaving them no room to ‘care.’
- There is not enough time in the day for staff to communicate with the people they support, their families, or other professionals.
- There are little to no training and onboarding programmes for nursing staff.
- There is a lack of support for staff members like supervisors.
By assessing the current state of your healthcare, patient outcomes, and staff satisfaction, you can take action steps to fix any significant issues arising from insufficient nurses.
What are safe staffing levels?
This is a crucial question that every nurse manager, nurse administrator, and healthcare executive should answer. The nursing staff you require will vary depending on your service and the clients you assist. This effectively means that you are in charge of determining how many nurses you require and hiring enough people to fill this need.
Providers should have a systematic approach to determine the staff and skills required to meet the needs of people using the service and keep them safe at all times. Where do you start? We’ll discuss below three areas you should consider.
Aims and objectives
The planning process will be complicated if you don’t have clear aims and objectives. This first step is where you engage with the leadership of your healthcare facility to:
- Identify the aims and objectives of your service concerning the critical patient care outcomes you seek.
- Determine how these relate to your local regulations and health authority structure
- Define the financial and non-financial aims of your organisation
- Identify the resources (people, equipment, and finance) needed to achieve your aims and objectives and develop your business plan.
The goal is to be realistic about your staffing levels and the time needed to achieve stated objectives and to calculate appropriate financial expenditure. Although nursing is frequently the highest line-item cost for hospitals, a 2013 study found that higher nurse staffing levels contributed to hospitals’ positive financial performance in competitive markets.
Safe nurse staffing helped increase productivity, decrease secondary infections, and reduce the average length of patient stays, resulting in cost savings and increased productivity. By taking a systemic and value-based approach to quality nursing care and creating safe working conditions, facilities can drive significant economic value while improving patient care quality.
Number of patients
By considering the total number of patients a service might have over a working week or month, you can begin to plan staffing requirements and resource allocation. The key is to be realistic about your staffing levels, so they should be based on recent data rather than overly optimistic targets.
To always ensure patient safety, nursing leaders should be able to manage and modify nurse staffing levels using their professional judgement. To ensure that safety standards are upheld in the event of insufficient nurse staffing, your leadership team should revise the systems governing patient flow or admission.
Also, note when you might need more staff, such as busy times of the day, when someone is receiving end-of-life care or when someone’s care needs increase.
Staff needs and expectations
Your nursing staff also need to do that which is outside of directly delivering care and support – for example, taking time to fill in care plans, complete handovers, talk to relatives, do training, and have regular supervision.
You should take other factors into account that go beyond work time regulations that impact your staff’s ability to deliver safe care and support. For example, long shifts can cause fatigue when your team lack sufficient time to carry out all their roles safely.
This step is also where you outline vital details like the minimum number of patients a nurse can care for, how long they can be on duty, and how many breaks they should have.
Get your nursing staff levels right
Achieving an appropriate and sustainable level of nursing staff for each shift is essential to ensure the quality of patient care and an environment that supports nurses’ professional development. You can develop a good ratio by clearly understanding the number of patients who will be cared for and the level of support staff available.
Suppose you are unsure how many staff are needed to provide safe patient care. In that case, you can seek the assistance of a reputable nursing services agency. Greys Nursing Services has successfully placed thousands of nursing professionals into hospitals, care homes, doctors’ practices and private homes.
Our extensive vetting, continuous training and vast pool of candidates ensure that our clients can gain top nursing staff. You can rest easy knowing that only the most qualified, caring and capable staff are placed with them.
Get in touch with us to learn more about our temporary and permanent healthcare services.