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NICE suspends work on safe staffing levels

NHS England has asked NICE not to begin new activity in its safe staffing programme

Ingrid Torjesen

Monday, 08 June 2015

NHS England has asked the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to suspend its work on safe staffing levels, although the guidance already produced for acute adult wards and maternity wards will remain in place.

NHS England will now take forward the issue of staffing as part of a wider programme of service improvement, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens told delegates at the NHS Confederation Annual Conference in Liverpool last week.

"I have asked Jane Cummings, the chief nursing officer, to take a look at whether it would make more sense in respect of the new staffing guidelines that are being proposed for various parts of the health service, to instead remit that to our new urgent and emergency care vanguards and the mental health taskforce and various others – so a different approach to answering those questions," he said.

NICE was asked by the Department of Health to draw up guidelines to ensure adequate nurse staffing levels for nine healthcare settings including acute wards, accident and emergency departments, maternity, mental health, and community services following the Francis report.

In his report on the scandal of poor care at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, Sir Robert Francis said NICE should draw up “evidence-based tools for establishing what each service is likely to require as a minimum in terms of staff numbers and skill mix”.

Sir Robert said: “Adoption of these practices, or at least their equivalent, is likely to help ensure patients’ safety.”

As part of its safe staffing work programme that began in 2013, NICE has produced guidance on safe staffing in two settings: adult acute wards and maternity.

Sir Andrew Dillon, chief executive of NICE, said: "Making sure that hospitals and community services are safely staffed remains an important priority for the NHS. The guidance that NICE has already published on safe staffing levels in adult acute wards and in maternity settings was widely welcomed and will continue to be used.

"The announcement by Simon Stevens of a review of the approach to setting safe staffing levels means that the work to secure safe levels of staffing in accident and emergency departments and in mental health and community settings is likely now to be taken forward as part of NHS England’s wider programme of work to help the NHS deal with the challenges it is facing over the next few years. NICE stands ready to support this work using the experience we have gained over the last two years."

Two evidence reviews currently in progress will be completed and will help inform future work on safe staffing. The existing guidance on adult acute wards and maternity settings will remain in place.

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