NHS wards that are understaffed should be shut says lawyer

  • Robert Francis QC, who uncovered the Mid Staffordshire care scandal, is calling for minimum safe staffing levels at hospitals.

    Mr Francis believes that wards and units of hospitals which have too few nurses and doctors able to look after patients safely should be shut down. Hospital Corridor

    Mr Francis had an interview with the Guardian and explained that wards should be shut until hospital bosses are certain that they have enough experienced staff, and in the meantime patients should be sent elsewhere.

    "If you haven't got the right number of people to fly an aircraft properly, you don't fly the aircraft. You should not be operating if you haven't got enough surgeons on duty who are fit to operate [and] you should not be running a ward if you haven't got enough staff on duty to feed people", said Francis.

    "What we need is much more honesty than we have at the moment, I suspect, about when we can't provide the service. And if we can't provide the service safely then actually that place would not provide it."

    Mr Francis was behind the 30 month public inquiry into poor care at Stafford hospital which has prompted a huge drive to transform quality of care, patient safety and openness within NHS.

    He has warned that patient safety would be undermined unless all NHS staff were put under his proposed "duty of candour" to admit when they either commit or witness mistakes.

    The QC also said that he believes the NHS should introduce minimum safe staffing levels, which is an idea that so far has been rejected by the health secretary Jeremy Hunt however it has been backed by the Royal College of Nursing, the Patients Association and Labour.

    Peter Walsh, the chief executive of the patient safety charity Action against Medical Accidents, backed Francis's calls.

    "Closing unsafe wards had to be the ultimate sanction. You can't run wards or other medical facilities that are unsafe because they have too few staff to do the job. That is common sense," he said.

    Image source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1057587

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