Too Few Nurses to Care for Stroke Victims

A survey of NHS stroke services has shown that 75% of hospitals do not have enough nurses to look after people admitted to hospital at the weekend after suffering a stroke.

The research by the Royal College of Physicians found that huge shortages of nurses could be putting thousands of lives at risk. This audit comes hot on the heels of another report which made a strong link between death rates among stroke victims and the number of nurses on duty. About 110,000 people suffer a stroke every year in England, making it the third most common cause of death after heart disease and cancer.

A study carried out in the summer by King’s College London showed that stroke units which employ 3 nurses for every 10 stroke beds save one extra life for every 25 people admitted compared with hospitals employing fewer nursing staff.

The audit looked at 74,000 patients across England, Wales and Northern Ireland and found that shortages of nursing and medical staff were a common problem. National hospital standards state that hospitals should be employing three qualified nurses for every 10 stroke beds, but just 50 out of the 183 hospitals which were looked at managed to achieve this level of nursing care at weekends. The RCP audit also highlights the poor quality of rehabilitation care for stroke victims with communication difficulties. It found that 25% of hospitals had open vacancies for stroke consultants, and found that too few junior doctors were choosing to specialise in this area of medicine.

The report said that the situation of patients suffering poor care due to low staffing levels was “clearly unacceptable”, and called on NHS watchdogs to take steps in order to protect patients.

According to the report, the major shortages of doctors and nurses raises concerns because there is clean evidence that death rates for stroke patients are lower when there are more qualified members of staff on duty, and also that the figures show a reduction in deaths at night or over the weekend when there are more doctors on the wards.

A stroke proves fatal for around 25% of victims, and of those who do survive, many are left with ongoing health problems due to the brain damage caused by the stroke.

Chief Executive of the Stroke Association, Jon Barrick, said that too many patients were facing life-long disabilities because of the lack of specialised 24 hour nursing care in the hours following a stroke. He also said that the low numbers of specialist stroke medical staff was “very worrying”.

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