Global white paper urges leaders to invest in safe nurse staffing

The paper – launched at the International Council of Nurses’ annual conference – states evidence for a clear link between nurse staffing levels, patient safety and the quality of care is now “overwhelming and compelling”.

“It provides a powerful message for policy-makers around the globe”

Howard Catton

“In short, excessive workload and poor nurse staffing ratios are associated with higher rates of preventable medical harm and increased patient mortality and morbidity,” said the document.

Drawing on research evidence from around the world, it calls on governments everywhere to invest in nursing staff.

The white paper (see PDF attached below) was developed jointly by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and Saudi Patient Safety Center following the fourth global ministerial health summit on patient safety in Saudi Arabia in March this year.

It not only stresses the need to have sufficient numbers of nurses in order to provide safe and effective care for patients but also to when it comes to ensuring nurses’ own wellbeing and retaining staff.

In a foreword to the white paper ICN chief executive Howard Catton said patient safety and nurses’ wellbeing were “two sides of the same coin”.

He said the Nurse Staffing Levels for Patient and Workforce Safety document, unveiled at the conference in Singapore, sent a “powerful” message to politicians and healthcare leaders.

“It provides a powerful message for policy-makers around the globe that having the right numbers of nurses, in the right place and at the right time, delivers quality and safety for the populations they serve and will help to retain nurses,” he wrote.

“In addition, policy makers should heed the message that having safe staffing levels is also the most cost-effective approach to bringing about improvements in patient safety and quality of care.”

However, the paper also acknowledges “it is not easy” to determine optimal staffing levels.

”Our goal is to bring together global stakeholders that will help deliver universal health coverage”

Dr Abdulelah Alhawsawi

“In the future, valid and reliable staffing tools and evidence-based staffing models need to be developed to improve patient safety and care outcomes,” it said.

Nurse managers and leaders must be actively involved in designing staffing models, it added.

The paper goes on to make a series of recommendations based on the ICN’s position statement on evidence-based safe nurse staffing published last year.

These include recommendations to ensure nurses are involved at the highest level in workforce planning and devising and implementing safe staffing policies.

The recommendations also stress the need for “sufficient healthcare funding to deliver needs-based safe staffing” and call on national nursing associations and governments to ensure registered nurses “are not substituted with healthcare workers that are less qualified”.

In an introduction to the white paper, Dr Abdulelah Alhawsawi, director general of the Saudi Patient Safety Center, said the need to improve nurse staffing levels was a pressing issue in his own country but also across the globe.

“Our goal is to bring together global stakeholders that will help deliver the overall vision of achieving universal health coverage free of harm,” he wrote.