Scottish NHS staffing levels to be enshrined in law

Staff shortages are a common problem across NHS hospitals. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty
Staff shortages are a common problem across NHS hospitals. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty
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Safe staffing levels in Scotland’s NHS are to be enshrined in law, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is set to announce.

Sturgeon will set out plans for new legislation to reinforce patient safety when she addresses the Royal College of Nursing congress in Glasgow tomorrow.

Her announcement follows widespread concerns about staffing levels in the NHS.

Last week Scotland on Sunday published a report outlining safety fears caused by insufficient staff in children’s wards in NHS Lothian.

The report compiled by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health was commissioned by the health board following the temporary closure of the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital in Livingstone.

The 79-page document drew attention to midwives’ concerns about the treatment of premature babies in the neonatal unit at the hospital. It also identified low morale, overworked staff, insufficient medical cover and cancelled appointments in the health board area.

Tomorrow the First Minister will inform nurses of her plan to achieve safe staffing levels.

She will tell RCN delegates that discussions will begin over the summer with the aim of putting health staffing on a statutory basis. The First Minister is expected to say: “Since this government came to power in 2007 there are more than 2,300 extra qualified nurses and midwives working in our NHS.

“In addition to having 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.”

Chief nursing officer Professor Fiona McQueen added: “The link between safe and sustainable staffing levels – including qualified nurse numbers – and high quality care is well established.

“It’s vital to have the right number of staff in place, with the right skills. We already have building blocks in place in Scotland to achieve this, including evidence based planning tools and enhanced training.”