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Hiring more doctors could prevent patients dying

Friday 18th December 2015
Post-surgery survival rates improve if hospital staffing levels are higher, new research shows. Image: Thinkstock/iStock
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Patients are more likely to die in hospitals with fewer doctors on their rotas, according to a new report.

Data collected by researchers at St George's University of London and published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia shows that after undergoing emergency surgery, patients are more likely to survive if there are a higher number of medical professionals available to look after them.

The research

The team looked at post-surgery death rate statistics from 156 NHS Trusts between 2005 and 2010, finding that just a small number died within 30 days of their operations, but patients' likelihood of survival varied significantly depending on how many doctors were available to treat them.

Analysis of these figures showed that death rates were seven per cent higher at the third of hospitals with the lowest number of doctors and nurses on hand compared to the third with the most staff available.

What's more, patients admitted for emergency surgery - such as appendix removal, hernia repairs or ulcer operations - at the weekends were 11 per cent more likely to die within one month of the procedure than those operated on between Monday and Friday.

Hospital staffing numbers are typically lower on Saturdays and Sundays, but many healthcare leaders are calling for this to no longer be the norm so that patients' outcomes are improved and people aren't needlessly dying due to too few doctors being available.

What the experts think

Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Dr Mark Porter commented: "The findings suggest that more investment in hospital staff, beds and resources yields better outcomes for patients.

"This is in line with the BMA's calls for greater investment in urgent and emergency care to ensure patients have access to high-quality care, seven days a week."

Co-author of the study Mike Grocott, professor of anaesthesia and critical care at the University of Southampton, added: "Our study has identified a striking association between staffing levels, clinical experience and patient outcomes.

"This raises important questions about how emergency surgery is delivered within hospitals and across the NHS as a whole."

Janet Davies, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, also commented on the report, saying it highlighted the importance of the NHS and others in the healthcare industry supporting hard-working staff, so they can provide the best possible care for the patients they are in charge of.

Staffing level concerns elsewhere

This study follows last week's publication of the results of a survey of NHS workers in Scotland, which revealed that staffing levels remained among their biggest concerns.

Just 33 per cent of doctors and nurses said they felt there are enough staff on shifts to enable them to provide the best possible level of care to patients.

Written by James Puckle

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