Inurses2n many hospitals in England, one nurse is caring for eight patients and this is an unsafe ratio, the Safe Staffing Alliance has warned.

The alliance – made up of Unison, the Royal College of Nursing, the Patients Association, the Florence Nightingale Foundation and various hospitals’ directors of nursing – said that research had shown patients were at risk of harm or death at such ratios.

In a survey of 31 hospitals, the alliance said this minimum ratio was the norm in around 40 per cent of cases.

“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,” the alliance said. “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 health care provider.”

Chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation Dean Royles pointed out that the report did say that ratios of one-to-four or one-to-six are often provided, and that the majority of organisations do this. He added: “To me, it would be a tragedy if we started all working towards a national nursing ratio at the expense of those other professionals that are providing fantastic care to patients too.”

The health minister Dan Poulter said hospitals were responsible for making sure they had enough nurses, adding: “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.”

The shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “Ministers must intervene to stop the job losses and urgently bring forward a plan to ensure that all hospitals in England have enough staff to provide safe care.”