There’s a reason why nursing is such a promising field to enter: You can never have too many of them.
A new study reaffirms that principle, finding that hospitals with lower nurse-to-patient ratios have significantly lower mortality rates than those where nurses are spread out over more patients.
The research, which was published in the British Medical Journal, also found that a lower ratio of doctors to patients was associated with a lower chance of patient death. The study examined 137 acute care “trusts,” which are organizations that oversee hospitals in the U.K.
When looking at all of the trusts, the study found a significant association between the number of doctors on staff and patient mortality, but it did not find that the nurse-to-patient ratio had a major impact.
But when it focused on surveys of nearly 3,000 nurses from 31 of the trusts, the study found a significant correlation between nurse staffing and patient mortality.
Specifically, facilities with ratios of one nurse per six patients or lower had 20 percent lower patient mortality rates than those with 10 or more nurses per patient.
In contrast, the study found that higher numbers of other health care support workers, who have less training than nurses, was associated with higher mortality rates.
That, said the researchers, was evidence that hospitals seeking to cut costs by hiring less experienced substitutes for nurses are doing a disservice to patients.
“We found no evidence that having more support workers is associated with reduced death rates in hospital,” said Peter Griffiths, a health professor at the University of Southampton, and one of the study authors. “Some of our findings suggest the opposite. A policy of replacing registered nurses with support staff may threaten patient safety.”
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