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Investing in highly qualified nurses in hospitals pays off

Higher death rates, more complications after routine surgery, and more dissatisfied patients. These are the consequences if you replace highly qualified nurses in hospitals by lower qualified staff, as is often the case in the USA and the UK. International research has shown that it is now more than ever vital to invest in the training of nurses. Prof. Walter Sermeus, department of Public Healthcare and Primary Care, participated in this survey.

Higher death rates, more complications after routine surgery, and more dissatisfied patients. These are the consequences if you replace highly qualified nurses in hospitals by lower qualified staff, as is often the case in the USA and the UK. International research has shown that it is now more than ever vital to invest in the training of nurses. Prof. Walter Sermeus, department of Public Healthcare and Primary Care, participated in this survey.

Both in the USA and the UK nurses are increasingly being replaced by so-called ‘nurse assistants’. They do not have the proper qualifications and are therefore cheaper. However, prof. Walter Sermeus of the department of Public Health and Primary Care points out that this cost-cutting measure creates some worrying consequences.

“Hospitals with a large number of highly qualified care providers in proportion to the number of nurses will face higher death rates", says professor Sermeus. “Patients will also rate the hospital less favourably and nurses are less positive about the safety culture and quality of care.”  

Together with American and British researchers, professor Sermeus collected and analysed the data of 275.519 patients in 243 Belgian, English, Finnish, Irish, Spanish and Swiss hospitals. “We have been looking specifically at patients that have undergone routine surgery, e.g. hip replacement or an appendectomy. For this kind of surgery you rarely expect complications. But in hospitals that employ more non-nurses, these operations resulted in more problems. That is worrying.”

Furthermore, the American and British cost-cutting trend has had the opposite effect: the costs are on the increase. For instance, more patients have to be re-admitted because of complications. “If you replace highly-qualified nurses by cheaper and lower qualified staff, you will run into problems. This is not wholly unexpected, but nonetheless we can see that financial considerations sometimes prevail over quality standards.”

“At the moment, we are not yet confronted with this problem", says professor Sermeus. “In Belgian hospitals, the percentage nurses in relation to the total number of care providers in direct patient care is on average 74%, making it among the highest percentages in Europe. Extending the professional bachelor training for nursing to four years as the answer to the European guideline will also contribute to quality and patient safety. This remains the first and foremost priority, even in times of cost-cutting.”

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