Fewer nurses educated to degree level putting patients' lives at risk, study finds

Every 10 per cent increase in the number of nurses who hold a degree is linked with a seven per cent decrease in the risk of death

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Patients are more likely to die after routine surgical procedures at hospitals with fewer nurses educated to degree level, a large European study has found.

An analysis of more than 400,000 patient records also found that hospitals where there were fewer patients per nurse had lower death rates.

New nurses in the UK have required a degree since last year.

The study, the largest investigation of nursing and hospital outcomes in Europe to date, was carried out by a number of universities in Europe and the US, and is published in The Lancet medical journal today.

It found that every extra patient added to a nurse’s workload increases a patient’s chance of dying within 30 days of being admitted for surgery by seven per cent. However, every 10 per cent increase in the number of nurses who held a degree was linked with a seven per cent decrease in the risk of death.

Staffing levels and levels of nurse education varied significantly between countries. In England, 28 per cent of nurses were educated to degree level – the second lowest of the nine countries analysed. In Norway and Spain all nurses are educated to degree level.

The average nurse to patient ratio in England was 8.8 patients per nurse – higher than the best performers Norway, with 5.2, and Ireland, with 6.9.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said the findings vindicated the UK’s decision to educate all new nurses to degree level.

“Modern medicine means that a nurse’s role is far more technical and requires complex decision making which demands degree level education as well as the practical experience which currently makes up at least half of a nursing degree,” he said.