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Safety in numbers

Maths is a skill that anyone can improve through practice. This resource focuses on giving you the chance to practice the type of maths and number problems you will encounter in delivering everyday nursing care.

It will help build your confidence and competence when using maths as part of your nursing role.

It focuses on the practical ‘must know’ knowledge that you need in your day-to-day work. Sound maths skills are important for the provision of safe nursing care. Everyone has a responsibility to keep their maths skills sharp and up-to-date.

In each section, we will clearly explain how to perform the key calculations required in a given area of nursing and then provide activities to help you practice what you have learnt.

Who is this learning for?

This learning resource is relevant to all registered nurses, student nurses, midwives and health visitors, health care assistants (HCAs) and assistant practitioners (APs) working in any health care setting or any support role.

The aim is to provide learning materials with a focus on maths as it is applied in typical day-to-day workplace scenarios. 

Numeracy is particularly important in health care and plays a vital role including, but not limited to:

Discussing medical conditions with colleagues and patients interpreting information given to you by patients or colleagues writing formal and informal reports spotting patterns and trends in numbers (e.g. is a patient's condition deteriorating?) reading numerical information from medical equipment (e.g. blood pressure) administering medicines taking measurements and accurately recording results.

It should be clear from this that improving your maths skills will improve your ability in all areas of the care you provide (as well as your confidence). In addition to this, it is important to remember that you are required to have the necessary numerical competence to carry out your nursing duties to the standard required.

Maths anxiety can be one of the most damaging consequences of a lack of confidence with numbers. Many people experience maths anxiety, which may be as a result of fear instilled while studying the subject at school, or just rustiness through lack of practice. In a health care setting the most important consequence is the potential death or harm that comes to patients when calculations of any kind are wrong.  Potential consequences of mistakes arising from an individual's lack of competency with numbers could also result in:

Health care organisations facing legal proceedings leading with the cost of damages arising from any claims made against them compromised overall patient care with outcomes that cause harm delayed progression for health care staff in their career and lead to disciplinary procedures damage to the reputation of the entire nursing and health care community by high profile cases.

It is important to emphasise that people do not get into trouble for asking for support and working to improve their skills. However, they may well face disciplinary proceedings if they make serious errors (particularly in the administration of medicines) or if they have an issue with maths that they are unwilling to work to resolve.

Here are some suggestions for ways nursing staff can help themselves:

  • Practice - maths, like any skill, gets worse the less it is used. Practice is the most direct way of improving your skills and building confidence take your time – do not feel rushed when doing number problems at work. 
  • Take time - take the time you need to be confident in your answers get help - if you need help, ask! This might involve asking a colleague to check your calculations at work or it might mean getting support outside of work to improve your skills.

There are local community classes where you can get help, and you could also contact your union representative or union learning centre for help and advice. There is also a wide range of freely available online maths resources.