The impact of nurses on patient morbidity and mortality- the need for a policy change in response to the nursing shortage

Australian Healthcare Association
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Australian Health Review, 2010, 34 (3), pp. 312 - 316
Issue Date:
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CONTEXT: Workforce projections indicate that by 2012 there will be a shortfall of 61,000 registered nurses in Australia. There is a growing body of evidence that links registered nurse staffing to better patient outcomes. PURPOSE: This article provides a comprehensive review of the research linking nurse staffing to patient outcomes at a time of growing shortages, highlighting that a policy response based on substituting registered nurses with lower skilled workers may have adverse effects on patient outcomes. METHOD: An electronic search of articles published in English using the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Journals @ OVID and Medline was undertaken. FINDINGS: Robust evidence exists nationally and internationally that links nurse staffing to patient outcomes. Recent meta-analyses have found that there was a 3-12% reduction in adverse outcomes and a 16% reduction in the risk of mortality in surgical patients with higher registered nurse staffing. Evidence confirms that improvements in nurse staffing is a cost-effective investment for the health system but this is not fully appreciated by health policy advisors. CONCLUSIONS: An appropriate policy response demands that the evidence that patient safety is linked to nurse staffing be recognised. Policy makers must ensure there are sufficient registered nurses to guarantee patient safety.
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