The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Fewer nurses mean more deaths

Dec 9, 2002

A study carried out for the American Medical Association reports what every nurse already knows: the more patients assigned to one nurse, the greater the risk that a patient will die or otherwise be harmed.

The study focused on patients who had undergone general, orthopedic or vascular surgery in Pennsylvania during 1998 and 1999. In situations where nurses had to care for eight patients, the patients were 31% more likely to die in the first 30 days following surgery than where nurses had four patients to care for.

The study also drew another conclusion – and that is that nurses with a higher patient load get "burnt out" quickly and soon leave the job.

There is a lot of talk these days about a nursing shortage – used, of course, to justify high patient loads for every nurse. But it's this very load which drives nurses out of the field and adds to and perhaps even creates the so-called "shortage."This system, in order to maximize profit, tries to trick nurses and other workers in the field to work in a superhuman way to cover for the missing workers – supposedly in the interests of the patients. In fact, as this study shows, when one nurse does the work of two, the patients are put at risk.

What would it take to have enough nurses? Nothing other than a medical system which put the needs of the patients and of the people who work in it ahead of the requirements of profit. Those nurses and other workers in the field who refuse to make "superhuman" efforts to make up for what management refuses to provide, offer the best hope of changing the way this system for profit provides medical care.