New healthcare law to ensure safe staffing levels passes first hurdle

The Health Secretary has committed to adding day-to-day assessments of staff needs into new legislation aimed at ensuring safe numbers of healthcare workers.

Holyrood unanimously passed the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill at the first stage on Thursday, with cross-party support.

The legislation was put forward following concerns about staffing levels in the NHS and by care providers.

It would put workforce planning tools on a statutory footing.

Introducing the Bill, Jeane Freeman warned it “will require a significant cultural shift in our health and care services” but said: “It is an opportunity to enable a rigorous, evidence-based approach on staffing that takes account of patient and service users health and care needs.

“It will identify the workload required to deliver those needs, assist the exercise of professional judgement and promote a safe environment.

“It is an opportunity to ensure the professional judgement of our staff delivering health and social care is heard.

“In meeting the increasing demand on our services it is essential that we act to make sure our whole system of health and care has the capacity focus and workforce to address the needs of our changing society.”

Announcing an amendment to the Bill at the second stage, Ms Freeman added: “It’s clear from my meetings with representatives from staff groups that the Bill could be improved by placing a more explicit duty on to health boards to ensure there are clear mechanisms in place for the day-to-day assessment of staff needs and clear routes for the professionals’ voice to be heard.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs stressed the need for greater clarity on where accountability will lie and highlighted a Royal College of Nursing staff survey in which more than half of staff (51%) reported their last shift was not staffed to the levels planned and 53% said care was compromised as a result.

He said: “Scottish Conservatives recognise that our health and social care workforce face a number of challenges, with or without legislation unless we urgently resolve the staff shortages across NHS Scotland, safe staffing levels will remain a dream rather than a reality.”

His Labour counterpart, Monica Lennon, said health and social care services are “struggling to cope” and warned the proposed legislation “isn’t going to fix health and social care workforce crisis by itself”.

“Put simply, there must be enough staff available to deal with the high workload that NHS staff are experiencing,” she said.

“These tools must work in real time, so that if any health professional who finds himself in an understaffed ward can alert this problem.”