Medical malpractice cases are often against doctors and entire institutions, like hospitals and medical centers, those who are most likely to be considered responsible for patient harm. But recently there has been a rise in the number of cases pointing the finger at nurses. While the recent study that made this finding was conducted in South Africa, the spike in cases against nurses is important throughout the world. It demonstrates that it is not just physicians who can cause harm through negligence.

Study Show Increase in Malpractice Among Nurses

The study was conducted by researchers associated with Stellenbosch University’s Department of Nursing and Midwifery. Investigators looked at more than 100 cases of medical malpractice suits and found that nursing errors were responsible for a significant amount of harm to patients who had filed the lawsuits.

The researchers found that 69 percent of the patients involved had suffered a decrease in quality of life because of nursing malpractice. Among those, 43 percent needed to have additional surgery and 25 percent had lasting disabilities because of the negligence. Most had to stay in the hospital for longer than they would have otherwise.

The issues that were found to have arisen from nursing negligence in the study included a failure to follow set guidelines for care, inadequate knowledge for a given situation, failing to adequately monitor patients, failure to give a prescribed medication, not responding appropriately to clinical signs, and not being adequately trained for the work being done.

Nurses Are Important for Quality Care

The study was conducted through medical facilities in South Africa but is an important indicator of the importance of nurses in any medical setting. In many of the situations studied it wasn’t that nurses were not doing their jobs well, rather that the tasks nurses would normally perform were falling to less qualified workers like nursing assistants. Still, nearly 87 percent of the cases did involve a nurse not doing his or her job adequately or with the best care for patients in mind.

The results of this study indicate just how important it is to have quality care from nurses, to have enough qualified nurses on staff, and to have nurses who are doing their jobs well and considering patient care on a daily basis. When nursing care become substandard, whatever the underlying cause is, patients suffer and malpractice occurs.

In some cases all it takes is for the nursing staff to listen to patients. One case of malpractice that was investigated in the study involved a man who had surgery to remove a tumor from his spine. After the surgery he complained of weakness in his foot. He continued to complain about the sensation for several hours, and finally he became paralyzed because no one listened to him.

Quality care from all health professionals is important for the well-being of patients, but this current study shines a light on just how crucial good nursing care is. When nurses are not trained, when less-qualified staff is used in place of nurses, or when nurses are overworked and understaffed, patients suffer serious harm. The result is a spike in malpractice cases, which cost money and increases the cost of healthcare for everyone.