Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

International Journal of Nursing Studies






School of Nursing and Midwifery


Department of Health and the Health Research Board


Drennan, J., Murphy, A., McCarthy, V. J. C., Ball, J., Duffield, C., Crouch, R., . . . Griffiths, P. (2024). The association between nurse staffing and quality of care in emergency departments: A systematic review. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 153, article 104706.


Background: The relationship between nurse staffing, skill-mix and quality of care has been well-established in medical and surgical settings, however, there is relatively limited evidence of this relationship in emergency departments. Those that have been published identified that lower nurse staffing levels in emergency departments are generally associated with worse outcomes with the conclusion that the evidence in emergency settings was, at best, weak. Methods: We searched thirteen electronic databases for potentially eligible papers published in English up to December 2023. Studies were included if they reported on patient outcomes associated with nurse staffing within emergency departments. Observational, cross-sectional, prospective, retrospective, interrupted time-series designs, difference-in-difference, randomised control trials or quasi-experimental studies and controlled before and after studies study designs were considered for inclusion. Team members independently screened titles and abstracts. Data was synthesised using a narrative approach. Results: We identified 16 papers for inclusion; the majority of the studies (n = 10/16) were observational. The evidence reviewed identified that poorer staffing levels within emergency departments are associated with increased patient wait times, a higher proportion of patients who leave without being seen and an increased length of stay. Lower levels of nurse staffing are also associated with an increase in time to medications and therapeutic interventions, and increased risk of cardiac arrest within the emergency department. Conclusion: Overall, there remains limited high-quality empirical evidence addressing the association between emergency department nurse staffing and patient outcomes. However, it is evident that lower levels of nurse staffing are associated with adverse events that can result in delays to the provision of care and serious outcomes for patients. There is a need for longitudinal studies coupled with research that considers the relationship with skill-mix, other staffing grades and patient outcomes as well as a wider range of geographical settings. Tweetable abstract: Lower levels of nurse staffing in emergency departments are associated with delays in patients receiving treatments and poor quality care including an increase in leaving without being seen, delay in accessing treatments and medications and cardiac arrest.



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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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