The struggle for safe staffing levels in the USA: A political economy of evidence-based practice

Timothy Munier, Sam Porter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines the debate over nursing staff to patient ratios through the lens of Marxist political economy, arguing that the owners and controllers of healthcare in the USA have a vested interest in opposing mandated minimum ratios, while those involved in carrying out nursing care have a vested interest in their implementation, which coincides with the interests of patients. We examine how evidence-based practice articulates with social power, and proceed to interrogate the research methods used to generate evidence for practice, noting that randomised controlled trials are not suitable for evaluating nurse/patient ratios, which means that observational studies are the primary source of evidence. Representatives of nursing managers have used the fact that observational studies, while demonstrating an association between high ratios and poor outcomes, have not established a causal relationship, to support their argument that there is not sufficient evidence for the imposition of mandatory ratios. We argue that the precautionary principle provides firm justification for mandatory ratios, unless and until a causal relationship has been disproved. We conclude that those involved in the generation of evidence have to choose between technical arguments about the inferiority of observational studies, or emphasising their sufficiency in triggering the precautionary principle.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)592-603
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Research in Nursing
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • mandated minimum ratios, randomised controlled trials, observational studies, evidence-based practice, precautionary principle

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