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Keywords:

  • nursing workforce;
  • patient-centred care;
  • quality and safety

Aims and objectives.  To investigate whether nurses experience barriers to delivering high quality care in areas that are of particular concern to patients and to describe which aspects of care are most affected when nurses lack the required resources, such as time, tools and training to do their job.

Background.  Patient surveys conducted in the National Health Service of the United Kingdom tend to show there is variation in the extent to which they are satisfied with care in a number of important areas, such as physical comfort, emotional support and the coordination of care. 

Design.  A sample of nurses working in 20 acute London hospitals was asked to complete a postal questionnaire based on a prototype employee survey developed in the United States and adapted by the authors for use in the United Kingdom.

Method.  Staff in the human resources departments of participating hospitals mailed the questionnaires to nurses’ home addresses. After two reminders, 2880 (out of 6160) useable responses were returned, giving a response rate of 47%.

Results.  Nurses are aware that there are deficits in standards of care in areas that are particularly important to patients. The majority feel overworked (64%) and report that they do not have enough time to perform essential nursing tasks, such as addressing patients’ anxieties, fears and concerns and giving patients and relatives information. Their work is often made more difficult by the lack of staff, space, equipment and cleanliness. They are often unable to control noise and temperature in clinical areas. Nurses in acute London hospitals are subject to high levels of aggressive behaviour, mainly from patients and their relatives, but also from other members of staff. More positively, high proportions of the nurses in our survey expressed the desire for further training, particularly in social and interpersonal aspects of care.

Relevance to clinical practice.  This paper goes beyond reporting problems with the quality and safety of care to try to understand why patients do not always receive optimum care in areas that are important to them. In many cases nurses lack the time, tools and training to deliver high quality care in acute London hospitals. We suggest a number of low-cost interventions that might remove some of the barriers to patient-centred care. The questionnaire we have developed could be a useful tool for improving quality locally.