Study: Every extra patient on a nurse's caseload increases mortality risk 7%

Low nurse staffing levels may cause higher patient mortality rates, according to a study published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies.

For the study, researchers at Southampton University in England polled nurses at 31 National Health Service trusts about missed nursing care caused by understaffing. Missed nursing care was measured through a nurse survey and defined as not completing crucial activities such as patient surveillance, timely medication administration and adequate documentation.

While the average hospital has a 1 to 8 nurse-patient ratio, the study found some nurses treated up to 18 patients at a time, according to The Telegraph. Every extra patient on a nurse's caseload increased mortality rates by 7 percent, according to the study. A 10 percent increase in the amount of care left undone was associated with a 16 percent jump in patient mortality following a common surgery.

Researchers also looked at the nurses' qualifications and found hospitals staffing more nurses with higher degrees had lower patient mortality risk.

"It is more evidence that shows that you cannot substitute fully qualified registered nurses with less qualified staff, without taking a risk with patient safety," said Peter Griffiths, PhD, RN, chairman of health services research at the University of Southampton. "It is the number of RNs on duty that is key to ensuring complete care and minimizing the risk of patients dying."

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