Nicola Sturgeon promises nurses ‘safe staffing’ will be made law

Written by Tom Freeman on 20 June 2016 in News

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addresses the Royal College of Nursing congress in Glasgow and promises 'safe staffing' law and support for student nurses

Staffing levels in NHS Scotland will be put on a statutory basis to prevent gaps in care, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised.

Speaking at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) congress in Glasgow, Sturgeon said the level of nurses had a direct impact on patient safety, and discussions on the new legislation would be held over the summer.

The RCN welcomed the news but warned it would only work alongside more investment in staff.


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Addressing nurses from all over the UK, Sturgeon said Scotland had record staffing levels.

“Scotland has led the UK in the development of mandatory nursing and midwifery workload and workforce planning tools that help health boards to plan for the number of staff they require.

“By using these tools, health boards can make sure they have the right number of staff to provide the best possible care for patients in a variety of specialities.

“To build on our record, we will enshrine these planning tools in law and examine what other areas of the workforce would benefit from having similar tools developed, which will further strengthen our commitment to patient safety in our wards.”

RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe welcomed the announcement but said without adequate funding to employ more staff, the plans would be a “paper exercise”.

She said: “The devil will be in the detail and we look forward to working with the Scottish Government over the coming months as their proposals become clearer.”

The announcement was also welcomed by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. “Safe - and sustainable - staffing levels are required to deliver the best possible standards of patient care and would help prevent a recurrence of the serious failings in NHS care highlighted by numerous Inquiries and Reviews since 2000,” said Professor David Bell.

Public sector union UNISON questioned whether the new law would apply across all NHS workers or just apply to nursing.

“While many health boards across Scotland have already used the tools to invest in nursing posts, in others it has simply led to an increase in bank and agency costs as they struggle to meet the demands of the service while cutting back on staff costs. 

“We don’t want to see health boards slashing staffing levels in other areas - occupational therapy, physiotherapy or even domestics and catering - to ensure they meet the legislative requirements of this announcement,” said Matt McLaughlin, UNISON Scotland’s head of health.

In her speech, Sturgeon also committed to protect free tuition and bursary support for student nurses, for which she received a standing ovation. 

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