NHS staff cuts 'could cost lives'
Patients could die because of staffing cuts in the NHS, Britain's nursing leader has warned.
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the Government's planned £20 billion of NHS efficiency savings were causing "some of the most widespread cuts in its history", with at least 27,000 posts due to disappear and "many more" at risk.
Writing in The Observer, he also warned the cutbacks risk returning to the days of long waiting lists and patients lying on trolleys in corridors.
Dr Carter said: "The worry is that we have seen time and again what happens when staffing levels are slashed without thinking of the impact on patient care.
"Take some of the well-documented examples in recent times of disastrous failings that can occur in part through staffing deficits," he added, referring to recent scandals involving loss of patients' lives through service failings.
At Stafford hospital, between 400 and 1,200 patients were found to have died because of poor care, while 90 people being treated at the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells hospital trust in Kent died after catching the superbug C difficile.
Dr Carter said there was an "indisputable link" between staffing levels and mortality rates, with one study showing a 26% increase in these rates for patients in hospitals that have the highest patient-to-nurse ratios.
He added: "While (nurses) are seeing further cutbacks, less shift cover, more patients to attend to, they will have less time to give each patient and there is no doubt care will suffer. The NHS is not yet returning to the days of interminable waits for treatment and trolleys in corridors, but we are worried that on the trajectory already started, it may only be a matter of time until it does."
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "Reform is not an option; it is a necessity. If we are to make patient outcomes truly world-class and respond to rising demand, we must reform the NHS so that it can focus its resources on patients and quality.
"The NHS white paper will help to protect patients and give commissioners the powers to take action if unacceptable mistakes happen. Unsafe care is not to be tolerated."