This site is optimised for modern browsers. For the best experience, please use Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.


We welcome your feedback, which will help improve this site.

Feedback form

Hospital wards still running with too few nurses


Hospital wards across the NHS still have too few nursing staff despite new policies coming into force as a result of the 2013 Mid-Staffordshire Inquiry, according to new research funded by the NIHR.

The Inquiry led by Sir Robert Francis, QC, into the failings in care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust between 2005 and 2009 led to new national policies, including the introduction in 2014 of NICE guidelines on safe staffing for acute hospital wards.

However, this research, funded by the NIHR Policy Research Programme, found that the new workforce guidelines have not led to significant improvements in nurse staffing levels on hospital wards.

Professor Jane Ball and her team of researchers from the Universities of Southampton and Bangor surveyed Directors of Nursing in acute NHS trusts, analysed national workforce data, and reviewed case studies and policies from four acute NHS trusts, taking into consideration the health service context in which they were developed and implemented to reach their conclusions.

They found that the initially strong policy response to the Francis Inquiry - to put patients first and foremost and to never let the failings found in Mid Staffordshire happen again – had become more muted.

According to the study, hospitals are facing major challenges in recruiting and retaining registered nurses. The average vacancy rate for nurse posts was reported at 10% across the country, with rates as high as 20% in some trusts.

Although the total number of nursing staff in acute care has increased since the 2013 inquiry, concurrent growth in the number of patient admissions has meant that there has been no net improvement in nurse staffing levels.

Professor Ball said: “The ongoing national shortage of registered nurses, and failure to increase supply sufficiently, has not been addressed. NICE identified a ratio of 8 patients per registered nurse as a level that threatens patient safety. But in our survey of Directors of Nursing, 1 in 4 reported wards were routinely running with this high-risk level.”

Read more