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Inadequate Nursing Care in NHS Hospitals

I was unfortunately not surprised to hear on the news recently that apparently nurses working in the UK simply do not have ‘time to care’. The impact this has on the standard of the care that is provided is serious and can lead to very serious mistakes, which in turn can sometimes lead to patients bringing clinical negligence claims if they suffer injury as a result.


A “Good Morning Britain” survey, conducted in conjunction with The Nursing Times, has shown that one in four nurses currently working in NHS hospitals, clinics or wards believe they have put their patients’ lives at risk because they are too busy.

As one nurse told Good Morning Britain, she had put a patient’s life at risk “on many occasions” because she did not have time to monitor their vital signs.

Chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Dr. Peter Carter said:

This survey will sadly come as no surprise to nurses. Our members tell us that they are working extra hours just to get the essentials done but the NHS can’t function on goodwill and commitment alone. Nurses want to come to work and make a difference. It is hugely demoralising, not to mention potentially unsafe, if staff can’t deliver for all their patients. There is evidence of hospitals heeding the warnings of the Francis report and taking on more staff, but this is from a very low base at a time when demands are rising fast.”

What is being done about it?

It is the opinion of frontline nursing staff that staffing remains the key factor in ensuring patient safety.

There is an increasing recognition by many hospital trusts that they need to recruit more nurses, and the survey carried out by Good Morning Britain and The Nursing Times suggested that the vast majority of nurses still believe mandatory minimum nurse-to-patient ratios are the best way of ensuring safe staffing.

Hospitals have been urged to ensure that they always have sufficient cover, so that patients can see the correct doctor when needed, regardless of the time or the day. It is hoped that ensuring there is always sufficient cover, will reduce the number of serious incidences that occur at night and weekends, when there is generally a lack of experienced staff.

The Nursing Times documented in December 2013 that hospitals had been warned about the need for better quality weekend care, and stated that hospitals will face sanctions unless they deliver the same standard of care seven days a week, aimed at cutting the increased death risk at weekends.

NHS medical directors need to ensure that patients admitted at weekends receive the same standards of care as those during the week, and this includes ensuring that there are sufficient numbers of nurses working at all times to meet patient needs.

Our experience

As a clinical negligence lawyer, my clients describe to me examples of inadequate nursing care all too frequently, and this includes describing nurses who are rushed off their feet and just seem too busy.

The medical records we obtain often then highlight the inability of nurses to find the time to dedicate sufficient time to ensure patients are adequately cared for.

Although being “too busy to care” does not necessarily lead to negligence, there are situations where lack of care does have serious consequences, and leads to a claim for compensation. 

This is particularly evidenced in cases relating to the development of pressure sores, which are usually caused as a result of inadequate nursing care, and a shortage of necessary equipment such as pressure mattresses and cushions.

I have also had experience of cases where time pressures have resulted in the wrong drug being prescribed, or an incorrect dosage administered. 

Clearly something needs to be done if we are to see a reduction in claims resulting from inadequate nursing care, caused as a result of nurses quite simply being “too busy to care”. The results of the recent survey of nurses themselves speaks volumes.  They should not be put in a position where they do not have enough time to provide the care they want to provide and therefore decisions and changes need to be made at management level.

If you think you might be entitled to compensation due to medical negligence, please contact a member of our team for advice.

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