News in Nursing

The Impact Understaffed Hospitals Have on Dying Patients

Overworked Nurses Forced to Leave Patients to Die

There are many jobs today that require both a cornucopia of training and certifications, as well as a tolerance to performing in high-stress and rather intense scenarios.  Jobs such as these require a unique personality by which focus and hard work must be fully applied, with an ability to react based on prior knowledge and learned instinct.  These attributes do well in describing the grind that can be associated with the actions of a registered nurse.  Nurses, among other jobs within the healthcare industry, often require long hours and dedication for one single shift.  This factor of nursing needs employees who are up for the sometimes daunting task, and must be able to focus with keen observation and action.

There do come times, however, where nurses are pushed beyond limits that may not have ever been expected, some in which may bring them outside their comfort zones. Requirements that test the code of ethics associated with nurses and other healthcare professionals. Such was the case with a recent survey finding, wherein it was discovered that a large proportion of nurses located in the United Kingdom had reported having felt that too many patients were assigned to them at a time, bringing about serious repercussions.  These repercussions sometimes resulting in an event no nursing school can quite prepare nurses for until it happens: Death.

One specific case wherein nurses were simply overworked and understaffed included a report of the Royal College Nursing staff.  Findings associated with the healthcare facility discovered that 7 in 10 nurses reported shortages on their staff the employer’s last shift. This ultimately left staff heartbroken, as the workload resulted in a neglect of the weak patients needing more attention.  The survey itself consisted of a total of 30,000 nurses. Within the poll it was discovered that almost a third reported having to care for at least 14 patients at a time.

This finding brings with it the question of whether or not the all-too-important ethics of work and nursing had been considered.  Beyond this, the finding shows that this amount work in fact goes against the guidelines set forth by the nation, where it is explicitly stated that the amount of patients for one nurse should not exceed 8 patients in the time of the nurse’s shift without raising serious red flags as a sign of shortages on a given hospital floor.  One nurse asked to complete the survey had commented that, “Too many patients are dying alone.”  The hospital employee warned that elderly patients in their terminal phase are left alone as their death is fast approaching, sometimes with only hours of life left.

The cause

Nurses have been forced to leave patients alone due to a variety of factors, one being that there are simply too many patients assigned at a time.  This problem is may be due to certain precautions not being taken, due to possible poor management of the nursing staff, or ineffective policies and/or policy enforcement within the hospital.  Another significant cause of this problem is the result of understaffed hospitals. 

This dilemma poses various problems, with the obvious one being that many patients are ultimately not receiving the care they so desperately need.  With this can very well bring a bad reputation to these hospitals, as patients and loved ones want a healthcare provider with the proper resources available to them, especially the all-too-important resource that a nurse provides. 

Without an established and trustworthy reputations, patients may all-together sop visiting the specific hospital, and begin to look elsewhere.  This being said, some patients do not always have this luxury, as a proportion of the patients within a hospital are terminally ill.  Janet Davies, the Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive, states that “We urgently need assurances from every health and care provider that services are safe for patients.”  Without this, serious repercussions may be in site for understaffed hospitals such as the Royal College of Nursing.

Other sources point to a key political as well economical shift in the near past that very well could have led to this dangerous, life-threatening within the United Kingdom-based hospitals.

The solution to understaffed hospitals

The initial step towards to solving this problem has now been underway.  Thanks to the aforementioned survey, the problem has been identified.  In doing so, the ability personnel such as the nurses, nursing managers, and beyond, are able to expose the problem to enable potential progress.  Although this could be the case, the report found that nearly half of the nurses who responded to the survey stated that they had indeed brought the problem to their hospital managers, with little to no action taken.

This finding, provides potential problems for staff, as some may feel that their voices are ultimately not being heard.  One from the insightful survey had been 10 years into her career, wherein she was considering a departure from the profession.  The feeling was due to the fact that the amount of short staffed nurses among the hospital meant that numerous patients were not receiving the life-saving treatment that they desperately needed, and very would receive if the staff had indeed been properly assigned and had the proper amount of nurses working at a time.

Beyond identifying the problem, as it has mostly been done to this point, (various hospitals may be in the earlier stages of shining a light on the problem for their given staff), a serious policy change is needed.  This very well can include an alteration within the very structure by which the hospitals affected by this problem use to dictate what a nurse is assigned for a given night.  The answer can also look into the techniques used by nursing managers in order to control workloads for all nurses within the hospital. 

Although this very well could be implemented, perhaps a better solution would include a technique that is able to identify when the assignment of a nurse for their respective shift is approaching an at-risk status.  This would identify and prevent any potential for a workload to become too severe to handle by any given nurse.  Davies, the Royal College of Nursing executive, mentioned above, responded when asked about the potential changes that, “We urgently need assurances from every health and care provider that services are safe for patients.”

The future for nurses and patients

In terms of solving this problem, the future lies in the progressive actions taken by a variety of professionals among the hospitals.  This may very well include a combination of doctors, nurses, as well as nursing managers, who need to come together in order to battle this life-threatening dilemma.  As mentioned before, the solutions may vary, with some courses of action that include changing the structure that dictates how nurses are assigned patients for any given night.  In addition to this, a change in policy, and more importantly, how this policy is enforced, is also needed. 

To do so, the United Kingdom-based hospital may need to observe the best course of action that suites their hospital and how it functions.  The Royal College of Nursing will ultimately need to take into account how more efficient operations surrounding them, such as the nearest hospitals, approach this problem, in order to be prepare for its prevention in the future.  Without these steps towards bettering the workload for overworked nurses, the potential, life-threatening hazards will continue to prevail.