Nursing numbers a third lower on elderly wards

Hospital wards caring for elderly patients have up to a third fewer nurses working on them than other wards, research suggests.

A survey of almost 1,700 nurses for the Royal College of Nursing found staffing levels on older people's wards was significantly lower than those for other specialties and general medical admissions.

Overall, wards for elderly patients had one registered nurse for every 9.5 patients compared with an average of one for every 6.7 patients. One third of the nurses questioned said the staffing shortages meant they were unable to help patients eat and drink.

The RCN said it was calling on the Government to implement a patient guarantee, setting out the minimum number of nurses on older people's wards. But Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, which represents hospital managers, said mandatory staffing levels was not the answer.