While we are not aware of similar research in South Africa, it seems plausible that meeting minimum nursing ratios here too could result in substantial cost-savings – through fewer readmissions and shorter hospital stays as observed in Australia, but potentially also by reducing the number of medico-legal claims against the government.

“Nurses offer a comprehensive service package in preventing diseases, promoting health, curing diseases, and rehabilitative services. Healthcare cost will therefore be greatly reduced if more nurses were employed especially with revitalisation of primary healthcare and strengthening of community-based healthcare services,” says Khaya Xaba, spokesperson for the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu). He adds that staff shortages in the nursing profession impact directly and negatively on the quality of nursing care and the delivery of quality healthcare services to healthcare users.

Rich Sicina, a paediatric nurse and general secretary of the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU) agrees that readmissions are an avoidable problem.

“Where I work, it’s like they take turns to use the bed, two weeks in and two weeks out. Patients are in and out because we can’t look after them thoroughly. Patients are discharged not because they are better but they have to open space for the next patient who is worse at that time. The system now forces nurses to choose who will be given more care and who will not. With this kind of care, we can only see more and more readmissions. All this can be avoided if there were more nurses,” he says, adding that most nurses, deep down know that most of the deaths could have been avoided if there were more of them…more