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.”

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
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

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015