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Mandated Nurse-to-Patient Ratio in Queensland is “Saving Lives”

A new study revealed that the introduction of a mandated nurse-to-patient ratio in Queensland, Australia has saved almost 150 lives and helped the government save millions of dollars.

The legislated nurse-to-patient ratios of one nurse to four patients for morning and afternoon shifts and one nurse to seven patients for night shifts have been in place for selected acute surgical and medical hospital wards and mental health units across 27 hospitals in Queensland since July 2016. The average nurse saw their workload trimmed down by one to two patients during the day and one to three on a night shift.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing was appointed to carry out an independent evaluation of the new ratio system by Queensland Health–the government department in charge of the state’s public health system.

The study found the reductions of one patient per nurse were associated with a 9% less chance of a patient dying in a hospital, a 6% less chance of readmission within seven days, and a 3% reduction in length of stay. One less patient on a nurse’s caseload was also associated with a 7% reduction in burnout.

“Queensland Health is to be commended for its evidence-based policymaking that included the funding of a prospective independent evaluation of the outcomes of establishing minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in the state,” said Penn Nursing professors Matthew McHugh and Linda Aiken, the academics leading the evaluation.

The new ratio system saved 145 patient lives in the first year and helped avoid 255 readmissions and 29,200 hospital days, an estimated savings of between $55.2m to $83.4m (AUD).

“The rigorous evaluation shows that the policy was justified and is saving lives and money,” added McHugh and Aiken.

The Penn Nursing professors said their findings will be helpful to other jurisdictions considering similar laws around nurse staffing. According to the Queensland Health website, they will consider expanding the legislated ratios based on the findings of the independent evaluation.