Safe staffing in England and Northern Ireland should be enshrined in law

Vulnerable people accessing NHS services may experience greater problems than the rest of the population due to inadequate staffing levels

Safe staffing – or enough nursing staff with the right skills and knowledge, in the right place, at the right time – is a legislative issue being championed by the RCN.

With inadequate staffing levels comes the risk that vulnerable people accessing NHS services may experience a greater array of problems than the rest of the population.

Nurses uphold safe standards of ethical practice

As emergency nurses, we take responsibility to uphold safe standards of ethical practice; work within the Nursing and Midwifery Council Code; and lodge our dissatisfaction at not being able to provide for our patients as they increasingly occupy marginal positions on emergency department corridors.

Variation in legislation exists across the UK. Wales introduced statutory guidance on safe staffing in hospitals in April 2018 – the first country in Europe to do so.

The Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act became law in Scotland in May 2019

In Northern Ireland and England there are no laws on nurse staffing levels and, as yet no plans to introduce such legislation.

Inadequate staffing creates toxic work environment

Lisa Wolf stresses how the combined effects of fatigue, workplace bullying, moral distress and inadequate staffing create a toxic environment for nurses, with negative consequences for patients and practitioners.

She argues that safe staffing decisions which consider absolute numbers and skill mix are essential to break this vicious circle: safe staffing is the sword needed to cut the Gordian knot. 

I urge practitioners to help move the campaign for safe staffing legislation forward to end the workforce crisis in emergency care.

Sign the RCN’s safe staffing petition or become an e-campaigner.

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Tricia Scott is consultant editor at Emergency Nurse

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