Safe staffing law passed in Scotland

Author: Caroline White
Safe staffing law passed in Scotland

Staffing for safe and effective care in Scotland’s NHS and care homes has been enshrined in law following a final debate in the Scottish parliament yesterday.

The Health and Care (Staffing) Bill is the first comprehensive multi-disciplinary workload and workforce planning legislation in the UK, and is the first of its kind in the UK to apply to both health and social care services.

The new law will embed openness in decisions about staffing across all clinical staff groups. Staff members involved in assessing immediate staffing requirements will receive appropriate training to help them effectively consider this.

The Bill was introduced to parliament in May last year. It aims to provide a statutory basis for the provision of appropriate staffing in health and care service settings, to enable the provision of safe and high-quality care and improve outcomes for service users.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged to put safe staffing on a statutory footing when she spoke at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Congress in 2016.

The RCN’s #askformore campaign highlighted the changes that needed to be made for the Bill to make a real difference.

It called for the legislation to do more than put the existing workload and workforce planning tools on a statutory footing.

The RCN has championed the role of the senior charge nurse (SCN) and their equivalent in the community in co-ordinating safe care and developing nursing teams to ensure they have the skills and experience they need.

The RCN will push to have this unique role, and the need for SCNs not to carry a direct patient caseload, to be recognised in guidance.

RCN Scotland director, Theresa Fyffe, said: “Throughout the campaign our members consistently asked for more from the legislation. It’s clear that their personal stories have had an impact and that they have been listened to.

“With this legislation the Scottish government has set expectations on standards of care and who is accountable for maintaining safe staffing. Over the coming months we will continue our work, supporting the development of guidance and the plan for implementation.”

But she sounded a warning over the nursing shortage in Scotland.

“We’ve been clear from the outset that legislation alone will not solve the nursing staff challenges that face Scotland’s NHS and care home sector.  What’s needed is a change in our wider safety culture and a fully funded, long-term workforce planning process that ensures Scotland has the right number of nursing staff to meet future needs,” she insisted.

“This is an important Bill that will promote safe staffing across our NHS and social care services and, in doing so, improve patient experience,” commented health secretary Jeane Freeman.

“Being open about decisions on staffing allows health boards to allocate staff efficiently and effectively. I want staff to feel engaged and informed about decisions relating to staffing requirements and feel safe to raise any concerns about staffing levels.”

Earlier this week the RCN called for the secretary of state for health and social care to be made accountable to parliament for safe staffing in its submission to the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s enquiry into the NHS Long-term Plan: legislative proposals.