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In 2006 Nursing Standard invited readers to tell us about the skill mix at theirworkplace. The result of our snapshot survey helped launch a campaign for safe staffing levels.
Patients count on nurses, so it is up to managers and ministers to ensure that the numbers add up. That really is the only way to keep patients safe. But as more and more nursing posts are frozen and jobs lost, there is a danger that patient care will suffer. We want to arm nurses with as much information as possible so they can argue the case for the right skill mix.
There is mounting evidence that higher numbers of qualified nurses lead to better outcomes for patients. Readers have reported worrying stories about the impact of increasing workloads - and too often they are told by managers to 'make do'. But we were also pleased to hear about your successes because, as our survey showed, it can be done - not every unit suffered poor staffing levels by any means. A key factor is good nursing leadership and respect for nursing among the wider trust management. This approach needs to be brought home to others - 'make do' simply will not do when it comes to nursing care.
Amid the furore, health secretary Patricia Hewitt invited nurses at the RCN congress to provide her with evidence of staffing levels they think have become unsafe in their workplace. She promised to look at how managements are dealing with unsafe staffing levels forms 'because patient safety is paramount'. It is important that nurses hold her to account over this vital issue.
Saving jobs and protecting skill mix do not mean opposing improvements that benefit patient care. Health care is changing and will continue to develop. Nurses have shown many times that they relish the opportunity to be at the forefront of change, even if that means a shift of resources, for example from hospitals to the community. But that process must be planned - it cannot be a short-term excuse for cutting posts when money is tight.