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Doctor and nurse shortages on wards cause thousands of NHS deaths a year

Shortages of doctors and nurses on hospital wards are likely to cause thousands of deaths a year, a new study has suggested.Doctor and nurse shortages on wards cause thousands of NHS deaths a yearResearchers found that patients were almost 10% more likely to die when there were fewer medically-trained staff available.

It is thought that those being treated in overstretched hospitals are more prone to developing fatal complications and infections because they are not properly monitored.

The study from the University of Southampton and Imperial College London looked at almost 70 million records of patients who had surgery between 1997 and 2009.

Researchers calculated how many had later died of complications including pneumonia, bladder infections or blood clots – conditions which could normally be treated if detected early but if not properly monitored could be fatal.

They found that across the NHS every year around 28,000 patients died as a result of complications which might potentially have been cured.

The study, published in the International Journal of Nursing Research, also considered data on the numbers of doctors and nurses on all wards.

It found that patients were 9% more likely to die if there were fewer doctors than average, and 8% more likely to die if there were fewer nurses.

It also showed that patients on wards where there were more untrained workers such as healthcare assistants were 10% more likely to die.

Professor Peter Griffiths, who led the research, said that while some very frail patients would have died regardless of the standard of treatment, a high proportion were probably due to poor care.

He said: “The suspicion is that poor care is a very plausible explanation in a lot of these cases. If a hospital responds with the best possible care, the consequences of that complication should be less. If you do not have enough staff, they cannot provide good care.”

The results will cause concern because many debt laden hospital trusts have been axing nursing posts or imposing recruitment freezes, with thousands cut in the last two years.

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