Background There is strong evidence to show that lower nurse staffing levels in hospitals are associated with worse patient outcomes. One hypothesised mechanism is the omission of necessary nursing care caused by time pressure—‘missed care’.
Aim To examine the nature and prevalence of care left undone by nurses in English National Health Service hospitals and to assess whether the number of missed care episodes is associated with nurse staffing levels and nurse ratings of the quality of nursing care and patient safety environment.
Methods Cross-sectional survey of 2917 registered nurses working in 401 general medical/surgical wards in 46 general acute National Health Service hospitals in England.
Results Most nurses (86%) reported that one or more care activity had been left undone due to lack of time on their last shift. Most frequently left undone were: comforting or talking with patients (66%), educating patients (52%) and developing/updating nursing care plans (47%). The number of patients per registered nurse was significantly associated with the incidence of ‘missed care’ (p<0.001). A mean of 7.8 activities per shift were left undone on wards that are rated as ‘failing’ on patient safety, compared with 2.4 where patient safety was rated as ‘excellent’ (p <0. 001).
Conclusions Nurses working in English hospitals report that care is frequently left undone. Care not being delivered may be the reason low nurse staffing levels adversely affects quality and safety. Hospitals could use a nurse-rated assessment of ‘missed care’ as an early warning measure to identify wards with inadequate nurse staffing.
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