Short term gains from reducing ward rounds are outweighed by the improvements they bring to patient safety and timely discharge, according to clinical leaders.

Ward rounds should be the “cornerstone” of care but have often become neglected because of pressures on staffing and capacity, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Physician said last week.

There remains considerable variation between hospitals in how they are conducted and their clinical importance is often underestimated, they warned in a joint statement.

The colleges argue that multidisciplinary ward rounds are a “key vehicle” for coordinating the care of patients, improving both safety and continuity. They said: “Reinstating ward rounds will facilitate the delivery of compassionate care, enabling doctors and nurses to plan for care jointly.”

They also published best practice guidelines which call for a nurse to be present on every ward round and that they take place during the morning to minimise patient anxiety and aid discharge planning.

Download the guidelines here

Dr Mark Temple, acute care fellow at the RCP’s medical workforce unit, acknowledged that the NHS was currently facing “huge pressures” in terms of staffing, financial constraints and a “rising tide” of inpatients and emergency admissions.

“If you are a manager in a distant part of the hospital you may see a ward round as something that could be shortened and may not be able to measure the value of it compared to activity going through an outpatient department.

“We’re saying that a ward round is key to patient care and getting it right will save resources in the long term.”

He added: “We need to get away from a situation where a manager says: “[doctor] your ward round takes three hours and you need to make it an hour and a quarter.”

NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar said: “If we are to improve standards of care then it is essential we empower ward staff to plan care, take responsibility for staffing levels and design systems that are in the best interests of patients.

“The NHS is having to support a significant number of older patients and people with dementia which means more intensive and specialist care is needed throughout many hospitals.

“Staff communication and daily ward rounds are key to making sure the right systems are in place to provide the best care for these patients.”

Alzheimer’s Society director of external affairs Andrew Chidgey, said: “People with dementia occupy a quarter of hospital beds, but too often they are being let down by disjointed patient care.

“Improving the process could have a real impact on patient care.”