David Cameron hits back after nursing leaders raise major concerns over staffing levels and Government's plan to get trainee nurses working as healthcare assistants

PM says it is 'absolutely vital' to get quality of care right in hospitals

Three-quarters of hospital wards in England are operating with unsafe staffing levels at least once a month, a survey of nursing managers says today.

Nursing leaders also hit out at the Government's plan to get student nurses to work as healthcare assistants for a year, branding the plan "stupid".

The Prime Minister David Cameron strongly defended the Government's approach today, saying: "We have said in the light of [the Mid Staffs] report that nurses should spend some time when they are training as health care assistants in the hospital really making sure that they are focused on the caring and the quality and some of the quite mundane tasks that are absolutely vital to get right in hospital.

"And that is going to be controversial but in the end the sort of health service we want is not just about making sure we have got the facts and the figures and the money and everything else spent well, it's the level of care."

The Government has so far resisted calls to introduce mandatory staff ratios for hospitals in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire scandal arguing that it would not necessarily improve patient care and could lead to organisations seeking to achieve staffing levels only at the minimum level.

But the poll of nurse managers by the Royal College of Nursing found that NHS hospitals are regularly operating at levels that could be potentially unsafe.

Of the 2000 nurses in charge of hospital wards and team leaders working in the community almost three quarters 74 per cent said staffing levels dropped to unsafe levels at least once a month.  

More than a third (36 per cent) reported staffing levels were unsafe on a weekly basis, while almost one in ten said staff numbers fell to an unsafe level on every single shift. 

In his report into the failings of care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, inquiry chairman Robert Francis QC said officials should consider the “benefits and value for money of possible staff-patient ratios”.

At the start of their annual conference in Liverpool the nursing union said nine in 10 of their members said they would support the introduction of mandatory staffing levels to protect patient safety.

“Without a doubt understaffing is the single biggest challenge facing the NHS today,” said Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the RCN.

“Mandatory staffing levels are proven to reduce patient mortality. With correct management, flexibility and transparency there is no reason that introducing mandatory staffing levels will become a "race to the bottom" as some have described it. It is no less than patients deserve.

“The introduction of mandatory safe staffing levels, enshrined in law is now a matter of extreme urgency.”

He said it was important that the Government listened to ward sisters who would be would be crucial in driving improvements in care.

“The concerns of ward sisters are very clear: they do not have enough staff to always provide the high level of care they know all patients deserve; all too often they are not even being allowed to use their experience to safeguard basic patient care.”

And on the plan to get nurses to work as healthcare assistants, RCN president Andrea Spyropoulos said the scheme would "waste tax payers money".

"I don't believe it will happen. I believe it is a really stupid idea that will not benefit patients."

Jamie Reed, Labour's Shadow Health Minister, called on the Government to accept Francis’ recommendation.

“Robert Francis was right to recommend benchmarks on staffing and the Government should accept it without delay,” he said. “Ministers must stop the job losses and ensure all hospitals have enough staff to provide safe care.”

However a Department of Health spokesperson said there was “no excuse for hospitals that don't have enough staff on the wards” but that mandatory staffing levels were not the answer.

“Hospitals need the freedom and flexibility to decide on how many staff to employ, because they know the care their patients need,” they said

"The Francis Inquiry highlighted the need for better tools for hospitals to decide on the right numbers of staff - we are working with NICE, the CQC and NHS England to develop these. NHS England's Chief Nursing Officer has also said hospitals should publish their staffing levels - and justify them - at least twice a year.”

Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
newsHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Data Analyst

    £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

    Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

    Commercial Litigation

    Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

    BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried