A group of nursing and patient organisations in the UK are warning that staffing levels on a number of hospital wards in the NHS in England are “unsafe”.

The Safe Staffing Alliance (SSA) – which includes the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and the Patients Association - says wards often have just one registered nurse looking after eight patients.

In a statement, the SSA said: “For the sake of clarity, more than eight patients per registered nurse is the level considered to be unsafe and putting patients at risk. It is not a recommended minimum.

“For nurses to provide compassionate care which treats patients with dignity and respect, higher levels will be needed and these should be determined by every healthcare provider.”

The SSA says research shows that when nurses are asked to look after more than eight patients there is an increased risk of harm or death.

The Alliance quoted a survey of almost 3,000 nurses at 31 English hospitals, which found that wards were run with a ratio of one nurse to eight patients about 40% of the time.

The survey also found that almost half of nurses had seen patients suffer as a result of services being cut – but it also revealed that the majority (58%) of nurses said they were “still proud” to work for the NHS.

In response to these findings, the government health minister Dr Dan Poulter said in a statement: “It is for hospitals themselves to decide how many nurses they employ, and they are best placed to do this. Nursing leaders have been clear that hospitals should publish staffing details and the evidence to show that staff numbers are right for the care needs of the patients that they look after.

“Overall, the number of clinical staff in the NHS has risen and the number of admin staff has fallen by 18,000.”

Poulter said a new ‘chief inspector of hospitals’ will be given the power to take action if hospitals were found to be compromising patient care by not having the right number of staff on wards.