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Low numbers of nurses could harm patient care

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The UK has a relatively small nurse/patient ratio The UK has a relatively small nurse/patient ratio

The UK has significantly lower ratio of nurses to patients than other developed nations, according to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report, leading to fears that a lack of staff could exacerbate existing problems.

The report, Health at a glance 2015, compared the state of the healthcare services from the 34 member states of the OECD. It found that the UK had 8.2 nurses per 1000 people, behind countries such as Switzerland, with 17.3 per 1000, Australia, with 11.5, and the United States, with 11.1 nurses per 100 people. The average for all OECD countries was 9.1 per 1000. ‘The UK also has a low number of nurses per head of the population compared with the average nation – and is well below the best,’ said Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN. ‘The lack of investment is particularly bad in community services, and those which many rely on to keep well and prevent hospital admissions.’

The low level of staff to patients has sparked concerns that patient care in the UK is suffering as a result. For example, five year survival rates for breast cancer were considerably lower in the UK than in countries with greater numbers of staff to patients. In the UK, 75.4% of people diagnosed with breast cancer survive for five years, below the OECD average of 84.9%. In the United States and Australia, 88.9% and 88% live that long, respectively.

Similarly, survival rates for patients with colorectal cancer lagged in the UK behind other OECD nations. In the UK, 56.1% of patients live for five years after their diagnosis, compared with 64.2% and 68.7% in the United States, respectively. The OECD average is 62.2%. ‘The twin evils of poor public health and a lack of staff to keep people well are in danger of worsening’ added Ms Davies. ‘The fact that the axe is continuing to fall on vital services is astonishingly short sighted, and the UK must not be allowed to become a poor relation to its neighbours.’

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