Hospital patients in England should be given the power to prompt an investigation into whether there are enough staff on their ward, new NHS guidance suggests.
Patients who are given sub-standard care should be able to alert ward managers which should prompt a probe into whether there are a safe number of staff working on the ward, according to the National Institute for Health And Care Excellence (Nice).
The organisation has identified a number of so-called 'red flags' which highlight that care could be compromised. If a red flag is identified by a patient or member of staff, the new advice from the NHS is to take action immediately.
Situations which would constitute a red flag include, patients not being helped on a visit to the bathroom, patients not receiving their medication or delays of 30 minutes or more in providing pain relief.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has praised the latest guidelines from NICE, which provides recommendations for the minimum amount of nurses that should be working on a hospital ward.
This is a major step forward for NHS safety. As a result of this new guidance the NHS will be able to give safer care and patients can have confidence that the right number of nursing staff are on duty.
It will also help hospitals to balance their books - for every fall avoided because a nurse was on hand to help, Nice estimates another £1,400 is saved.
Recent years have seen a big jump in nursing numbers in hospital wards, with 6,200 more nurses since 2010. Today's guidance will help the NHS use staff as effectively as possible.
Providing safe healthcare is "more complex" than setting a single ratio dictating how many patients should be assigned to each nurse, said the organisation behind NHS guidelines.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at NICE said:
Safe staffing is more complex than setting a single ratio. The emphasis should not just be on the available number of staff, it should be on delivering safe patient care and making sure that hospital management and nursing staff are absolutely clear on best practice to do this.
The reason why there is no single one-to-eight figure is because that will be seen as the figure that should be applied across all wards where we know that one to eight is not going to be enough in many scenarios.
A single figure is not appropriate if we want to deliver the right level of care for patients.
NHS wards should have two trained nurses working on them at all times if patients are to be looked after properly, according to fresh guidelines published by the National Institute for Health And Care Excellence (NICE).