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OCT 10/2014

Should safe staffing laws be extended to physiotherapists?

The increased focus on ensuring safe staffing levels within medical facilities is one of the most prominent trends to emerge in NHS management in recent months, with considerable effort and investment being channeled in this direction by key decision-makers at the moment.

At the heart of this movement is a desire to improve the standard of care for patients, to guarantee safety and to prevent a repeat of the systemic failings seen at organisations such as the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust in the past.

As a result, there are growing calls for these laws and regulations to be extended further to encompass staff in physiotherapy jobs - a move that many in the industry believe will have a beneficial impact for staff and patients alike.

Why the focus on safe staffing?
Safe staffing has become a hot-button issue since the publication of the Francis Report into the Mid-Staffordshire controversies, which led to the introduction of new laws mandating that all NHS trusts are more transparent in sharing statistics on their staffing levels in future.

Since then, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published detailed guidelines on the number of workers that hospitals need to have on hand at all times to ensure that patients' needs are being met and that staff are not being overworked.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) has welcomed developments such as these, while underlining the importance of broadening the laws to cover physiotherapy staff and other healthcare workers.

Sally Gosling, the CPS's assistant director of practice and development, said: "There needs to be recognition of the essential contributions of a diversity of professions and roles within multidisciplinary teams."

How can this benefit physiotherapy?
The CPS has been calling for such a move since the Francis Inquiry was underway, observing that physiotherapy is assuming greater importance in the overall provision of patient care than ever before.

As the government seeks to shift the focus of care into community settings, the role played by physios in helping people to recover quickly from injuries or hospital treatment will become more pronounced than ever. That means any efforts to reduce the number of staff in the sector need to be resisted, according to the society.

Moreover, the organisation has conducted an extensive review of existing national and internationally published research into determining staffing methodologies for physiotherapy, nursing, medicine and other health professions, which suggested that none of these tools could be immediately adopted - making the creation of bespoke safe staffing laws for NHS physios an important step.

As such, the CSP stated: "With a strong focus on staffing levels, it is more important than ever to make the case for the value and impact of physiotherapy's contribution to fulfilling patient needs, expectations and outcomes. 

"There is a real risk that attention on staffing levels becomes focused narrowly on maintaining and enhancing patient-nurse ratios and in acute care settings. 

"The case needs to be made for physiotherapy's role in meeting patient goals and achieving long-term benefits and cost savings, as well as upholding patient safety and the quality of care." 

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