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Monday
Nov212016

Substitution of Assistants for Nurses Increases Mortality, Decreases Quality

Substituting nursing assistants for professional nurses is associated with poorer quality of care and increased mortality according to a study published in BMJ Quality & Safety (1). Linda H. Aiken PhD and colleagues analyzed the effect of increasing the proportion of less extensively trained nurses at 243 acute care hospitals in Belgium, England, Finland, Ireland, Spain, and Switzerland. They surveyed 13,077 nurses and 18,828 patients who had been in 182 hospitals between 2009 and 2010. They also consulted mortality records for 275,519 patients who had had surgery in 188 of the hospitals between 2007 and 2009.

Overall, 47% of the professional nurses in the study had bachelor's degrees, although they were unevenly distributed, with some hospitals having none. In a hospital that has average nurse staffing levels and skill mix, the researchers estimated that replacing one professional nurse with a lower-skilled worker increased the odds of a patient dying by 21%. Conversely, each 10% increase in the proportion of nurses with high-level skills was associated with an 11% decrease in the odds of a patient dying postoperatively and a 10% decrease in the odds of a patient giving the hospital a low rating.

Overall, the findings paralleled those from the United States and are consistent with the concept that a higher level of education leads to improved care. "We find a nursing skill mix in hospitals with a higher proportion of professional nurses is associated with significantly lower mortality, higher patient ratings of their care and fewer adverse care outcomes," the researchers write. They conclude "that caution should be taken in implementing policies to reduce hospital nursing skill mix because the consequences can be life-threatening for patients."

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

Reference

  1. Aiken LH, Sloane D, Griffiths P, et al. Nursing skill mix in European hospitals: cross-sectional study of the association with mortality, patient ratings, and quality of care. BMJ Qual Saf. 2016. Published on-line 11/15/16. [CrossRef] 

Cite as: Robbins RA. Substitution of assistants for nurses increases mortality, decreases quality. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2016;13(5):252. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc121-16 PDF

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