Identifying gaps in global evidence for nurse staffing and patient care outcomes research in low/middle-income countries: an umbrella review

Imam A, Obiesie S, Aluvaala J, Maina JM, Gathara D, English M
BMJ Open. 2022;12

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OBJECTIVE: To identify nurse staffing and patient care outcome literature in published systematic reviews and map out the evidence gaps for low/middle-income countries (LMICs). METHODS: We included quantitative systematic reviews on nurse staffing levels and patient care outcomes in regular ward settings published in English. We excluded qualitative reviews or reviews on nursing skill mix. We searched the Cochrane Register of Systematic Reviews, the Joanna Briggs Institute Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports, Medline, Embase and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature from inception until July 2021. We used the A Measurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews -2 (AMSTAR-2) criteria for risk of bias assessment and conducted a narrative synthesis. RESULTS: From 843 papers, we included 14 in our final synthesis. There were overlaps in primary studies summarised across reviews, but overall, the reviews summarised 136 unique primary articles. Only 4 out of 14 reviews had data on LMIC publications and only 9 (6.6%) of 136 unique primary articles were conducted in LMICs. Only 8 of 23 patient care outcomes were reported from LMICs. Less research was conducted in contexts with staffing levels that are typical of many LMIC contexts. DISCUSSION: Our umbrella review identified very limited data for nurse staffing and patient care outcomes in LMICs. We also identified data from high-income countries might not be good proxies for LMICs as staffing levels where this research was conducted had comparatively better staffing levels than the few LMIC studies. This highlights a critical need for the conduct of nurse staffing research in LMIC contexts. LIMITATIONS: We included data on systematic reviews that scored low on our risk of bias assessment because we sought to provide a broad description of the research area. We only considered systematic reviews published in English and did not include any qualitative reviews in our synthesis. PROSPERO REGISTRATION NUMBER: CRD42021286908.