Half of unexpected deaths in Belgian hospitals are due to shortage of staff
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Half of unexpected deaths in Belgian hospitals are due to shortage of staff

According to the researchers, an optimisation of the nursing staff in the care institutions should be an objective for the authorities in Belgium. Credit: Pixabay

Half of the unexpected deaths in Belgian hospitals are due to a shortage of nurses, according to a study by the University of Antwerp.

Researchers from the University of Antwerp show the link between the number of nurses in hospitals and the death of the patients they care for, based on data from 34,567 patients’ medical records in four Flemish, one Walloon and two Brussels hospitals.

The records showed that, on average, three out of every thousand patients in the hospital died ‘unexpectedly’. A death is considered as unexpected when a patient suddenly dies during active treatment, with no care plan for the end of their life having been started.

“We know from previous research that part of these unexpected deaths can be avoided, which is always heartbreaking for the family as well as the staff,” said Filip Haegdorens, a researcher at the university, reports VRT NWS. “As a sector, we must do everything we can to prevent this,” he added.

The average nurse in Belgium is responsible for 9.7 patients at a time. For 89% of all departments, the number of nurses per hospital department was too low to be able to ensure good quality care. “Compared to, for example, Australian hospitals, where legal minimums exist, our Belgian figures could be improved,” said Haegdorens.

The study also shows a link between the training level of nurses and the number of unexpected deaths in the hospital. “In some hospital services, we found that more nurses with a high level of education would reduce the risk of unexpected deaths,” Haegdorens added.

“Nurses in Belgium have two different levels of education: higher vocational education or professional bachelor’s. Internationally, there have long been calls for more highly educated nurses at the patient’s bedside in hospitals, as it improves the quality of their care,” he added.

According to the researchers, an optimisation of the nursing staff in the care institutions should be an objective for the authorities in Belgium. “In our research, we found that some services benefited from more nurses in general, regardless of their level of education, and that others specifically needed more highly educated nurses,” he added.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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