Skill mix in nursing: a selective review of the literature


Dr Iam Gibbs Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, University of York Heslington, York Y01 5DD England


The issues surrounding skill mix are often highly contentious and, not surprisingly, various interest groups either welcome or reject attempts to examine the different combinations of staff, qualified and unqualified, experienced and inexperienced, in relation to costs, outcomes and quality of nursing care Despite the strong passions aroused by the debate, other factors, most notably demographic changes and the possible shortage of nurses, new demands on health care services and the call for more cost-effective use of resources, have kept skill mix foremost on the policy agenda. The review covers manpower planning, an area where considerable efforts have been made to determine the number but rarely the mix of nurses required to provide the necessary care for patients In addition, previous work on staff turnover, and the possibility of substituting less qualified for more qualified staff, are examined in relation to cost-containment, recruitment and demography, and the creation of a new single level of nurse These factors, along with the introduction of health care assistants, will have an important influence on the future shape and structure of nursing and, of course, the composition of the skills available While calling for further work on skill mix, the review provides a timely reminder that the issues are complex and often highly political.