Welsh assembly members prepare to vote for UK's first nurse staffing law

Result of Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Bill vote is expected to be a formality

Wales is poised to become the first country in the UK to pass a law aiming to ensure hospitals have safe nurse staffing levels.

A majority of Welsh Assembly members are expected to vote in favour of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Bill at around 6.15pm tonight.

The result is likely to be a formality – the bill won the backing of assembly members when they amended it during stage three of a four-stage process last week.

The bill applies to acute hospitals only and seeks to ensure there is an adequate number of ward nurses to meet the needs of patients at all times.

If enacted, the law will require local health boards and English NHS trusts with services in Wales to calculate and agree minimum nurse staffing levels, as well as provide indicators of where failure to have sufficient nurses has compromised patient care in the past.

Any staff member, minister or member of the public will have the right to instigate legal action if they have reason to believe the agreed levels of nurse staffing are not being maintained.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams introduced the bill in 2014. She originally used the word ‘safe’ in the title but the Labour-controlled assembly removed it during stage two of the bill's reading in June last year because achieving a legal definition of 'safe' was deemed impossible.

Conservative assembly member Altaf Hussain, who is a retired consultant orthopaedic surgeon, used a debate last week to appeal directly to nurses working in the NHS. He urged them to ‘stand up for patient rights and safety’ because, he said ‘the Welsh Government can’t’.

He added: ‘A nurse should be able to refuse to work in a situation that puts patient care at risk. They should be free to do so without fear of reprisal and not be bullied into working in a situation they feel will undermine patient safety.

‘Our nurses are the backbone of the NHS, but if we, the decision makers, fail to listen to their concerns and continue to allow the understaffing of wards, we will have a demoralised profession and we will jeopardise patient safety.’

RCN Wales director Tina Donnelly called today's legal move historic and said the law will empower nurses to drive safe staffing in hospitals.

She added: ‘When healthcare organisations fail to comply with recommended nurse-to-patient ratios, laws and regulations become necessary.’

If the bill is passed, it will require royal assent, which could be granted as early as next month.

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