Short-staffing of Nurses Increases Infection Risk

Healthcare associated infections (HAI) are those which a patient acquires while receiving treatment in a healthcare facility, requiring additional treatment which costs billions of dollars and resulting in thousands of deaths annually. Such infections include central line associated blood stream infections, catheter associated urinary tract infections, and ventilator associated pneumonia. The majority of healthcare associated infections are believed to be preventable.

Two people holding hands for comfort. Doctor consoling relatives of patients in hospital concept.

Australia does not have a national HAI surveillance system and there have been no national estimates undertaken of healthcare association infections in Australian since 1984 when the prevalence of HAIs was estimated to be 6.3%. A literature review in 2017 stated that when taking into consideration common infections such as pneumonia, gastroenterological and bloodstream infections, the incidence of HAIs in Australia is likely to be around 165,000 per year.

Some patients are at greater risk of acquiring a healthcare association infection due to being seriously unwell or a reduced ability to fight infection, however it is recognised that nurses play an essential role in preventing and controlling such infections through practice, coordinating multidisciplinary health care teams, and patient education.

New study

While researchers have been studying nurse staffing levels in relation to healthcare associated infections for more than a couple of decades, the results have often been inconsistent. Now a new study, conducted by the Columbia University School of Nursing, has found an association between understaffing of nurses and healthcare associated infections. The unit-level nurse staffing study used cross-sectional data over six years from more than 100,000 patients across a large urban hospital system.

The findings of the study were published in the Journal of Nursing Administration (JONA). The study found that patients on a unit understaffed with Registered Nurses were 15 percent more likely to develop an HAI. Almost five percent of nonsurgical patients had at least one of the three infections included in the analysis – UTI, bloodstream infection, and pneumonia – during their 30-day hospital stay.

The researchers involved in the study observed that nurses working in a unit which was short-staffed experienced working conditions that may have compromised infection prevention practices and the ability to watch patients for signs and symptoms of infection. The authors of the study further state that their findings confirm previous studies which have linked understaffing of nurses to an increased risk of healthcare associated infections.

If you are a healthcare professional interested in working as a nurse in Australia, HealthStaff Recruitment has a range of nursing and midwifery jobs available in Australia’s most iconic locations. Check out our list of Nursing Jobs Australia.