Hospital wards "become very dangerous" if nurses are caring for more than eight patients at a time, an expert from the Royal College of Nursing has told Daybreak.
Director of Nursing Janet Davies said there was no ideal number of nursing staff on a ward as demands varied depending on "type of ward, the age of the patient and the complexity".
However, she argued for a higher education level among nurses and said staff members with a degree were better at thinking on their feet.
English nurses who work on understaffed wards "have got their work cut out" for them, Daybreak's health editor Dr Hilary Jones explained.
He explained the uphill battle faced by nurses and the need for more would-be nurses to gain a degree:
The Government will not introduce a legal minimum for the number of nurses working on hospital wards because staff requirements were a "different number for different wards", Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.
A major study has found a direct link between nursing cutbacks and higher patient death rates.
Mr Hunt said forcing hospitals to publish monthly data on ward staffing would be a "huge step" forward.
The patient-to-nurse ratio in England is significantly higher compared to other countries, new research has revealed, after a major study suggested nursing cutbacks are directly linked to higher patient death rates in hospital.
Norway had a ratio of 5.2 to one, the Irish Republic 6.9, the Netherlands seven and Finland and Sweden 7.6.
Spain appeared to have the most overworked staff, with an average 12.7 patients per nurse but every nurse in the country is required to have a a bachelor degree.
A 10 per cent increase in the proportion of nurses holding a bachelor degree was associated with 7 per cent lower surgical death rates.
The number of patients cared for by each nurse in the UK is "worrying" and "can compromise patient safety," according to experts.
Chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Peter Carter, expressed concern over findings which showed nurses were expected to care for nine different patients on a daily basis.
It is worrying to see that researchers found the mean ratio of patients to nurses in England is above eight, as we know that this can compromise patient safety.
The RCN has also expressed concern at the skills mix in UK hospitals as trusts get rid of more senior nurses to save money, meaning there is far less experience on many wards, and the full extent of this will be revealed in our upcoming Frontline First report.
Nurses working in Spain are the most overworked in Europe, according to researchers.
However, patients have a higher chance of survival after surgery because more Spanish nurses have an undergraduate degree.
Staff in English hospitals look after nine patients on average - one more than professional bodies would like.
According to research published in the Lancet journal:
- Spanish nurses look after an average of 12.7 patients every day.
- Norway has a ratio of five patients to every nurse.
- Ireland every seven patients will be cared for by one nurse.
- The Netherlands, Finland and Sweden all had roughly seven nurses to every patient.
A patients' risk of death of after surgery rises by 7% if there are not enough properly trained nurses working on their ward, according to research.
The survey, published in the Lancet journal, looked at nine European countries and revealed how the extra workload created by cutbacks was also exacerbated by a lack of properly trained staff.
Nurses with university degrees had helped compensate for reduced staff numbers, but researchers found most UK nurses were juggling nine patients per day since cutbacks began.
However, researchers found a 10% increase in the proportion of nurses holding a bachelor degree was associated with 7% lower surgical death rates.
US expert Professor Linda Aiken, who led the research, said: "Our findings emphasise the risk to patients that could emerge in response to nurse staffing cuts under recent austerity measures, and suggest that an increased emphasis on bachelor's education for nurses could reduce hospital deaths."
Hundreds of hospitals do not have enough nurses to care for patients properly, according to analysis of staffing levels by The Times.
Research found that 43 per cent of NHS wards have only one nurse for every eight patients, a figure flagged up in the "red zone" of a recent government safety report.
Experts have also warned that elderly care statistics showing on average more than 9.1 patients per nurse, could compromise care.
Today, MPs called for the number of nurses on duty in every English hospital ward should be collected daily and published to help prevent a repeat of the Stafford hospital scandal.
Hospitals themselves must decide how many and which staff they employ. But we have been absolutely clear that these decisions must be based on providing the best patient care and hospitals should publish details and evidence to show that staffing numbers are right for the care needs of the patients that they look after.
The new chief inspector of hospitals will be able to take action if hospitals are found to be compromising patient care by not having the right number of staff on wards.
We are also working with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the Care Quality Commission and NHS England to develop better tools to help hospitals decide their staffing numbers.
Cutting nursing posts to save money is a false economy, leading to poor care and creating more strain on the system, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said today, after a report found that nurses were having to "ration care" due to time pressures.
Dr Peter Carter said:
These are depressing findings and unfortunately not surprising.
When nurses are overloaded with tasks, and have extremely limited time to complete them, something has to give. Without enough staff on the ground it's vital care such as having the time to talk with, and reassure, patients that suffers.
We need to prevent poor care by making sure wards are well staffed, not just use poor care as an early warning sign. We urge all employers to make use of this research.