Impact of nurse staffing levels on emergency department care


When it comes to emergency departments, having enough nurse staffing on duty can make a critical difference in patient outcomes, a new study suggests.

Published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, the research highlights the connection between lower nurse staffing levels and a range of negative consequences for patients seeking urgent care.

Professor Peter Griffiths from the University of Southampton, a co-author of the study, explains, “Emergency departments around the world are facing increasing pressures due to increasing demand and more complex health problems. At the same time, it is becoming harder to recruit and retain nursing staff.”

The study, conducted in collaboration with academics in Ireland and Australia, reviewed 16 studies, most of which were carried out in the U.S. The findings underscored the vital role nurses play in ensuring timely and effective care delivery in emergency settings.

One of the most significant findings was the association between reduced nurse staffing and patients leaving emergency departments without being seen. This not only poses risks to a patient’s health but also places additional strain on healthcare systems as these patients often require follow-up care within a short timeframe.

Length of stay in the emergency department was another area affected by staffing levels. As patient volumes increased and nurses’ workloads surged, delays in care provision became more common, leading to longer wait times for patients. This delay could also result in crucial vital sign observations being overlooked in crowded emergency settings.

The study highlighted a concerning link between nurse staffing levels and serious medical outcomes, such as cardiac arrest and death. Research suggested that higher patient-to-nurse ratios were associated with increased rates of cardiac arrest within the emergency department. Additionally, patients admitted with heart attacks over the weekend faced a higher probability of death when nurse staffing was inadequate.

Professor Jane Ball, another co-author of the study, emphasises, “The differences between the studies and limited high-quality research evidence available makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions. However, it is evident that lower levels of nurse staffing are associated with delays in the provision of care and serious outcomes for patients.”

In light of these findings, ensuring adequate nurse staffing in emergency departments emerges as a critical priority for healthcare organisations.

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Ritchelle is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel, Australia’s premier resource of information for healthcare.

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