Doctor calls for 7 patients limit for nurses

Milton Pena with his petition

A whistleblowing doctor is calling for a new law to limit the number of patients a nurse can care for. Surgeon Milton Pena, who exposed failings at Tameside Hospital in 2005, wants hospitals to adopt Californian-style rules.  Mr Pena launched a petition after seeing one nurse caring for 14 patients and hearing some were left to look after 30.

He wants nurses to be limited to caring for six patients on a surgical ward and seven on a medical unit. His petition has been signed by 400 nurses from Tameside Hospital and he has now set up an online version.  Mr Pena wants to prevent other hospitals having the same problems as Tameside but also says studies show high staff ratios reduce complications such as infections.

He said: “People will be shocked when they realise there is no limit to how many patients a nurse is expected to look after. Nurses have been given more and more responsibility, but it is just not fair to leave them responsible for 12 or 14 people.”

California introduced a minimum one-nurse-to-five-patients rule in medical and surgical areas in 2005. In this country, intensive care patients receive one-on-one care but there are no other binding staffing rules.

Qualified nurses are usually helped by healthcare assistants. Bosses at Tameside were told to hire more nurses or face prosecution after a recent inspection found there were not enough nurses to properly care for patients. But the department of health wants to leave local NHS bosses to determine staffing ratios.

The inspection of Tameside by the Care Quality Commission was prompted by calls from the M.E.N and community groups for an independent investigation into the running of the hospital. But the problems go back to before 2005 when Mr Pena, an orthopaedic specialist, leaked a dossier to the M.E.N showing that elderly and critically-ill patients were left unattended for hours because there were not enough staff to look after them.  He was disciplined by hospital bosses for speaking out, but has continued to raise concerns.  Tameside Hospital said: “We are aware of this petition and know this is an issue that a lot of people have opinions on.”

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