Two of the UK’s four countries, Scotland and Wales, have now passed laws covering staffing levels in the health service.
In 2016 Wales became not only the first country in UK to introduce safe staffing law but also in Europe. Under its law, adult acute medical and surgical wards are required to use a particular methodology to calculate their nursing establishment. However, the Scottish bill goes a step further because it covers both health and social care services and all clinical staff groups. The Welsh statute only relates to nursing and focuses on the NHS.
Welsh CNO Professor Jean White said, as a result of the legislation, trusts had identified the need to increase their staffing but in some areas were finding it difficult to fill all their vacancies. She said there was now a “much clearer understanding” of what trusts should do if they were missing staff, because the legislative framework laid out a “long list” of what to do to mitigate risk.
Meanwhile, union chiefs hope the progress made in Wales and Scotland would add pressure on policy-makers in England to follow suit. UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said the union had been fighting for legislation for the best part of a decade but the debate had now become “reinvigorated. UNISON passed a motion at its health conference in April to refresh its campaign. The “stark shortages” that nurses were experiencing in their working environments had “prompted more interest” in legislation, said Ms Gorton. The key reason UNISON wanted legislation was because voluntary and guidance measures were not proving effective, said Ms Gorton.
Legislation would help empower nurses to confidently speak out about staffing concerns in their workplace, she said. “We think that legislation is a first step towards creating a culture of transparency,” she added. However, Ms Gorton said new laws must go “hand in glove” with continuing efforts to increase the number of nurses in training.
Staff at a South London hospital lead the protests due to the critical Nursing shortage, they had just finished a night shift where they had been 6 Nurses short. They warned that the NHS no longer has enough Nurses to deliver safe and compassionate care.