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16.11.17

‘Staffing on the cheap’ and cash cuts linked to 120,000 excess deaths

Spending cuts across the health service are linked to higher than expected deaths, researchers have claimed, with the NHS seeing around 120,000 excess deaths in the past seven years.

The research, published in the BMJ, estimates that in order to close the NHS and social care funding gap, an annual cash injection of £6.3bn would be needed.

Most of the extra deaths were amongst the over-60s and care home residents, which the study attributed to the greater spending constraints experienced by social care.

The study argued that a major factor in the link between decreased spending and increased deaths is a reduction in nursing numbers due to cuts. In just one month, from March to April this year, the number of nurses and health visitors dropped by 1,049, and the number of students starting nursing courses this September dropped by 8% since 2016.

Chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Janet Davies, argued the findings are “yet more evidence that links the current shortage of nurses with increased patient mortality.”

“Despite years of warnings, all parts of the NHS and social care system do not have enough nurses and people, particularly vulnerable and older individuals, are paying the highest price,” she added. “They stand a better chance of recovery and longer, healthier lives when cared for by degree-trained nurses. 

“For too long, the government has allowed nursing on the cheap. Hospital wards and care homes alike increasingly rely on unregistered health care assistants, especially at night. Ministers cannot ignore further evidence on the risks of these shortages.”

Davies recommended the government “redouble efforts” to recruit more nurses, with next week’s Autumn Budget representing the biggest opportunity for the chancellor to change the course of the NHS.

In a similar vein, the BMJ study recommends that in order to reduce the number of avoidable deaths, spending should be focused on improving care delivery in care homes and increasing nursing numbers.

A Department of Health spokesperson stressed that no firm conclusions can be made from this study, as the researchers themselves have noted.

The spokesperson said: “The NHS is treating more people than ever before and funding is at record levels with an £8bn increase by 2020-21.

“We’ve also backed adult social care with £2bn investment and have 12,700 more doctors and 10,600 more nurses on our wards since May 2010.”

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