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Safe nurse staffing tool updated with new supporting resources

A tool that calculates nurse staffing requirements has been updated to include additional supporting resources and guidelines for different ward layouts.

The new versions of the Safer Nursing Care Tools (SNCTs) for adult inpatient wards and adult assessment units have been backed by the chief nursing officer for England, Dame Ruth May, who said it was “crucial” that senior nurses have the tools to plan and deliver safe staffing requirements.

The tools, developed by the Shelford Group’s chief nurses and supported by NHS England, calculate nurse staffing requirements based on patients’ acuity and dependency and aim to support chief nurses and managers in their staffing decisions.

“The Safer Nursing Care Tools are an important resource to ensure evidence-based approaches to staffing decisions”

Ruth May

Each SNCT consists of two elements: a method of categorising the acuity and dependency of each patient, which is split into seven levels of care, with each level having an aligned nursing resource for nurses to refer to.

The updated versions of the SNCTs for adult inpatient wards and adult assessment units have refreshed descriptors for the levels of care, as well as the resources that accompany them.

Meanwhile, the update also means the tools provide for different types of ward layouts, including traditional and single-roomed wards, as well as levels of care for one-to-one care and two-to-one care.

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The SNCTs for adult inpatient wards and adult assessment units belong to a suite of different versions of the tool, including children and young people’s wards, emergency departments and mental health settings.

The tools, which are endorsed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, are free to use by NHS trusts in England.

Janice Sigsworth, chief nurse at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and chair of the Safer Nursing Care Tool steering committee, said: “Having the right nurse staffing levels is fundamental to providing safe and high-quality patient care, as well as creating a positive work practice environment for staff.

“The Safer Nursing Care Tools already underpin the way in which NHS trusts plan their nursing workforce needs and the updated adults inpatient wards and acute assessment unit tools reflect the changing needs of our patients.”

The CNO for England’s safer staffing team has been supporting training in the implementation and application of the suite of the SNCTs to ensure that they are applied consistently across the NHS.

The tools are used alongside a wider package of support and guidance to support evidence-based decision-making on safe and effective staffing.

In February 2019, a CNO safer staffing fellowship programme was launched by NHS England in collaboration with the Shelford Group to equip individuals from across the NHS with specialist knowledge and skills to plan and implement evidence-based staffing programmes for a variety of clinical specialties.

This programme is now accredited as an MSc in workforce planning, development and assurance. The next cohort of the fellowship are set to begin the course in March 2024.

CNO for England Dame Ruth May said: “Safe and effective staffing remains high on my agenda and it is crucial that senior nurses have the tools and support they need to plan, calculate and deliver staffing requirements.

“The Safer Nursing Care Tools are an important resource to ensure evidence-based approaches to staffing decisions and I am delighted that this update will further add to the package of support we have available to help improve outcomes for patients.”

The Shelford Group is a collaboration between 10 of the largest teaching and research NHS hospital trusts in England.

They collectively employ over 170,000 people, account for over £17bn of the NHS budget and for almost two-thirds of the country’s clinical research infrastructure.

The SNCT was first developed by chief nurses in 2006 for adult inpatient wards. It was then updated in 2013 and endorsed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

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