The federal expertise centre for health care (KCE) has called for a maximum number of patients per nurse in order to make the health care system work at its best.
Working together with a team from the university of Leuven – site of one of the country’s most important teaching hospitals – the KCE interviewed some 5,000 nursing professionals from 84 hospitals across the county. They were returning to a model enquiry used a decade ago, which concluded that Belgium was working with a nurse-to-patient ratio far above the international norm.
According to the KCE study, a nurse in Belgium has to deal with an average of 9.4 patients today, compared with an average of 11 a decade ago. A number which the centre admits is an improvement, but still far from the internationally-approved maximum of eight patients to every nurse.
To resolve the situation in the short term, the KCE is calling for an immediate increase in the number of nurses employed, bringing 1,629 more nursing staff into employment, at an estimated cost of €118 million a year. “This needs to be considered an emergency measure, and the absolute minimum required,” the study concludes.
In the longer term, the KCE recommends fixing a quota according to the type of nursing service.
“For surgical services, internal medicine, geriatrics, rehabilitation and paediatrics, the reinforcement would require 5,500 full-time nurses, with an additional annual budget of more than €403 million,” the study concludes.
To offset those costs, the study suggests, some tasks currently undertaken by nurses could be allotted to other members of staff, which would not only cost less, but also serve to attract more applicants for nursing jobs at the same time as cutting the numbers of those leaving the profession.
Reacting to the study, federal minister for public health Maggie De Block said an injection of money into the problem would “not do much”. Instead, she said, what is needed is a thorough rethink of what the job of nursing involves.