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Row over safe staffing guidance work

Minister claims NICE was not instructed to halt work on safe staffing, but the health watchdog denies this.

Lord Prior, minister for NHS productivity, said that NICE was not instructed by NHS England to stop work on safe staffing, however earlier this month NICE unexpectedly stopped working on the patient to staff ratios guidance which was intended to help guarantee patient safety.

This sparked an outcry from Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, who said: “We all remember what happened at Stafford hospital when finances were allowed to come before patient safety. We can't let that happen again.”

NICE has since, in an email to Nursing in Practice, reaffirmed the fact they were asked to stop.

The fear is that this decision was financially-based, rather than in the best interest of the patients, however Lord Prior said the reason the “responsibility was transferred” to NHS England due to the new care models, rather than a lack of willingness to fund NICE's staffing recommendations.

However, Lord Hunt, who proposed the original question, was not satisfied with his answers, and later said: “I still fail to understand why an independent body, NICE, actually was instructed by NHS England to discontinue work on safe staffing guidance? What on earth caused NHS England to do that?”

To which Lord Prior said: “NICE have not been instructed to cease doing their work on safe staffing standards, on the contrary they've been asked by NHS England to provide them with appropriate guidance.”

In response, a NICE spokesperson reaffirmed that the watchdog was asked to suspend the safe staffing programme and not to begin new activity. However, two evidence reviews that were in progress will be completed and published on the NICE website at the end of July, to help inform future work on safe staffing.

“The information that would have been contained in the final draft of the NICE safe staffing guidelines for accident and emergency departments will made available on the NICE website but not as formal NICE guidance. Instead, the information contained within the final draft document will be published in an alternative format, as a record of the guidance developer's conclusions,” they said.