Red Flag System To 'Improve Care'

A New Red Flag System To Help Patients Highlight Poor Care Will 'Improve Safety'

16.07.2014

Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

Patients who receive poor nursing care during their stay in hospital will be allowed to trigger an immediate increase in staffing numbers under a new "red flag" system.

New guidance produced by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) highlights cases where the number of nurses on wards needed an "immediate" investigation and wants similar incidents to be avoided in the future.

According to Nice, patients, relatives and nurses are now being asked to raise the alarm to hospital executives or patient liaison officers if they are forced to wait excessively for help with going to the bathroom, accessing drinking water or being given painkilling medication.

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of Nice and director of health and social care, argued that safe staffing cannot be dictated by a ratio of "x staff to y patients" as different wards have different needs.

For example, an intensive care unit requires a more higher staff to patient ratio than a rehabilitation unit because of the nature of the condition of people staying within these wards.

But safe staffing is a priority for the NHS and as such professor Leng wants to give patients the power to raise a red flag when levels drop to unacceptable numbers - thus improving communication and avoiding needless bureaucracy.

These views were shared by Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for England, who said: "Each ward needs the right team of staff to provide high quality care for their patients.

"This doesn't happen by accident - it requires an evidence based approach, clinical judgment and regular monitoring, with the flexibility to quickly adapt to changing circumstances.

"Nice have brought together expert evidence to produce a set of guidelines that hospitals can use to ensure that patients are always at the centre of every staffing decision."

But while this measure may improve staffing levels in the short term, it has been argued by some commentators that greater reform of the NHS's £4 billion acute nursing budget is needed.

Expert Opinion
It is good news that patients can now trigger the introduction of additional staff numbers under the red flag system and that immediate investigations will be carried out where attention needs to be given to the number of staff on a particular ward.

“However, not all patients may be in a position to recognise this issue and so the NHS needs to ensure it also has the correct procedures in place to guarantee enough nurses are available to provide the appropriate care for patients on their wards.”

Mandy Luckman, Partner