Overcrowding, Understaffing Stressing Health Care Systems

Understaffing also increases risk of MRSA transmission

TUESDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- Hospital overcrowding and understaffing are putting stress on health care systems and increasing the risk of spreading methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to a review in the July issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Archie Clements, Ph.D., from the University of Queensland in Herston, Australia, and colleagues note that a drive for increased efficiency and cost-cutting in high-income countries has put stress on health care systems, leading to fewer hospital beds and higher patient throughput, with more patients being treated as outpatients. This stress is likely to get worse given aging populations and fewer people choosing health care careers, particularly nursing. A lower ratio of health workers to patients increases the risk of health care-acquired infections, the authors note. MRSA control strategies such as handwashing and isolation of infected or colonized patients also break down with understaffing, and MRSA outbreaks can put additional pressure on already understaffed hospitals by increasing the length of inpatient stays, the report indicates.

The authors note that implementing cost-effective control measures at the national level has been effective in reducing MRSA transmission in Australia and several European countries. Hospital overcrowding should also be reduced by methods such as diversion of patients to community settings.

"Overcrowding and understaffing have had a negative effect on patient safety and quality of care, evidenced by the flourishing of health care-acquired MRSA infections in many countries, despite intense efforts to control and prevent these infections occurring," Clements and colleagues conclude. "The economic benefits of downsizing health care systems are likely to have been offset by the increased burden of adverse events…leading to a false economy."

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