Overworked Nurses, Poor Staffing Can Affect Patient Safety

Overworked Nurses, Poor Staffing Can Affect Patient Safety

An overworked nursing staff can increase the risk of safety incidents in hospital care facilities, according to recent research published in the British Medical Journal.

As the first of its kind, the study analyzed how nurse workload could ultimately alter the quality of care. The data demonstrates insufficient staffing can strain resources, raising the risk of a safety incident, infection or even death.  

About Finland’s Nursing Workload Study

Published in the British Medical Journal Open, the study examined nursing intensity and the availability of nursing resources. The data was measured daily for a one-year period, collected by individual nurses at four hospitals in Finland.

The nurses measured workload intensity based on 249,123 classifications, providing the researchers with 12,475 data points. The information covered staffing, resources, patient safety incidents and mortality rates.

The data was gathered with the RAFAELA classifications, a system created in the 1990s and used in about 90 percent of hospitals in Finland today. It’s a standardized, evidence-based system for independent nursing workload measurement.

The results of the analysis show that when the nursing workload is more than optimal, patient safety incidents were 10 to 30 percent higher. For patient death, the risk is about about 40 percent higher. In contrast, when the workload fell below the optimal level, the risks were 25 percent lower.

This research is essential for improving safety and quality of life in nursing homes nationwide. Regardless of the facility, minimum staffing should be met and exceeded to ensure adequate care for residents.

Factors to Improve Nursing Workload

Though nurses receive specialized training, they’re still human beings. The research confirms nurses need more time to care for patients.

Having adequate time to spend with each patient may “reduce the risk for adverse events and accordingly prevent the patient’s health condition from deteriorating,” according to the study.

Nursing home staff and residents should be aware of a variety of factors related to safety including:

  • Research demonstrates the potentially harmful effects of insufficient nurse staffing on patient care.
  • Higher nurse staffing and richer skill mix are associated with improved patient outcomes.
  • Staffing levels must instead match patients needs, taking daily variations into account.
  • High nursing workload indicates nurse staff resources are too low.

“Such optimal resource allocation is needed for successful leadership and clinical governance, according to the study. “It is crucial for favourable outcomes, to preventing adverse events and to reducing patient mortality.”

It’s also important to note that may nursing home incidents may not be reported. Some reasons safety incidents aren’t reported could be staff unawareness, shortage, stress level or burn out.

Larger studies over a longer period of time are necessary for an accurate understanding of how nurse workload, staffing and resources can affect safety.