HSJ’s round-up of the day’s biggest stories and talking points

Extent of rota gaps revealed

A nationwide shortage of nurses is nothing new. But this week HSJ has published the results of an investigation conducted over almost two years to show not only is the shortage widespread across hospitals but the situation has got worse.

HSJ collected staffing data for hospital sites measuring the hospital’s performance against their own nurse staffing plans and found that as October 2016, 96 per cent, or 214 hospitals, missed their target.

The performance got worse in 2016 at around the time new agency cap controls came into force in April.

Additionally, the data suggests hospitals may be using healthcare assistants to fill gaps in the nursing workforce as the majority employed more HCAs than planned.

The realities of working on short-staffed wards has been laid bare by nurses who told us about their experiences, described how corners were being cut and warned patient care was put at risk.

HSJ also saw evidence of an incident report where a nurse was left to care for 24 patients on a shift.

While the numbers of nurses are only one element of keeping patients safe, mounting research has shown numbers of nurses are key to outcomes and even that HCAs and non-nurse staff can increase the risk of harm when used in place of nurses.

The data itself can’t answer whether this is happening, or whether the agency caps are causing the worsening picture.

But after tying his tenure to patient safety, health secretary Jeremy Hunt would surely have been hoping to turn these figures around.

S-T-whats?

While sustainability and transformation plans have been one of the biggest talking points among HSJ readers for some time (the most searchd for term on hsj.co.uk for a number of months has been “STP”), research shared with us this week has found very low awareness of the plans among the general public.

An Ipsos Mori poll found only one in seven people surveyed in December were aware of their local STP, which was in contrast with 74 per cent who were “worried” or “very worried” about the future of the NHS. The survey involved 943 people in England.

Despite STPs being described as “secret Tory plans” by some campaign groups, the survey results seemed to indicate a large degree of public apathy towards participating in the design of services. While 44 per cent of respondents said they would like a say in the plans, 17 per cent did not think public involvement was necessary. The remaining 39 per cent thought the public should have a say but they were not interested in being personally involved.