High nurse-to-patient ratios put COVID response at risk: study
An American study has concluded that the lack of nurse-to-patient ratio legislation in much of the country has jeopardised their COVID-19 recovery.
The joint study by the University of Pennsylvania, the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing found that high and variable nurse-to-patient ratios in much of the United States left nurses working burnt-out and understaffed – affecting both patient care and staff morale in the early stages of the pandemic.
The study analysed survey data from nurses and patients in 257 hospitals in Illinois and New York, and compared it to data collected from California, where nurse-to-patient ratios have been legislated since 2004.
It found that nurse-to-patient ratios varied from 3.3 – 9.7 patients per nurse in medical and surgical wards, while intensive care unit staffing ranged from 1.3 – 3.6 patients per nurse.
This variability and often large ratio led to over half of survey respondents indicating that they had been suffering from burnout from before the pandemic. Many rated the quality of care at their hospitals as being sub-standard, as did many patients.
As a result of this burnout, the authors of the study found that many nurses entered the pandemic with mental and physical health issues, which resulted in adverse outcomes for patients and negatively affected the American health response to the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted shortcomings in US healthcare”, the authors said in their conclusion.
“Our findings point specifically to the risks posed to the public’s health of wide variation in hospital nurse staffing if allowed to persist. Such risks could be addressed by safe nurse staffing policies”.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association is currently campaigning for safe nurse-to-patient ratios to be mandated in NSW. To find out more about this campaign, visit their website.