Opinion

Ensuring enough nurses to provide safe and effective care

This autumn, RCN Scotland will launch a campaign to guarantee safe staffing levels, says Theresa Fyffe

This autumn, RCN Scotland is calling on the public to back its campaign to guarantee safe staffing levels, says Theresa Fyffe


Picture: iStock

Delegates at this year’s RCN congress called for legislation in each UK country to address staffing for safe and effective care. 

Wales has led the way, with the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016, and has become the first country in Europe to introduce this kind of legislation.

In May, the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish parliament. It’s a chance to get staffing for safe and effective care right in nursing; it’s an opportunity for change, and one that cannot be missed.

This is why, this autumn, RCN Scotland will be campaigning hard on staffing for safe and effective care. The campaign is designed to make people stop and think and is aimed at the public as much as the nursing profession. 

Best care

The recent NHS70 celebrations and debate has shown that people want to be involved in the future of their health service, and want it to be the best it can be. People want to receive the best care, and they want their loved ones to receive it too. 

'We know the incredible sense of pride and satisfaction that comes from being able to leave a shift knowing that no patient has been left without the care they need'

There is already an expectation that any care will be safe and high quality, but we’re saying that members of the public need to make their voices heard to ensure that expectations are met. 

Nurses know that current workforce pressures, and unprecedented demands on health and care services, mean there are instances where care falls below the safe, high standards expected.

In 2017, nurses spoke out about staffing levels in a survey of 30,000 RCN members: 55% said shifts fall short of planned staffing levels and 53% said that the shortage compromises the care given to patients. 

Demoralising and depressing

It’s no wonder when you consider that Scotland has a nursing vacancy rate of 4.5%, meaning that more than 2,800 whole-time-equivalent posts are unfilled. Across the UK, this figure rises to an astounding 40,000. 

These figures mean that nurses and healthcare support workers in hospitals, community teams and nursing homes are struggling, day in and day out, to provide care to patients. It is demoralising for nursing staff and distressing for patients.

As one nurse working in Scotland put it in the 2017 RCN survey on staffing: ‘I started nursing to look after and care for people, but poor staffing levels mean that I struggle to give the best care. Most days I feel low and completely demoralised. I would like to believe things can change but feel this may never happen.’

Push for change

Sadly, this echoes what I hear each week from front-line nursing staff across Scotland. As nurse leaders, we have to push for change. 

We know the value for our patients of safe, high-quality care and the positive impact on patient outcomes of nursing with dignity and respect. We know the difference that having the time to speak to a patient’s loved ones makes. Most of all, we know the incredible sense of pride and satisfaction that comes from being able to leave a shift knowing that no patient has been left without the care they need, when they need it.

This is why, this autumn, RCN Scotland will be saying it’s time for change, and asking the profession and the public to stand with us as we ask for more.

You can keep up to date with the RCN’s campaign in Scotland at www.rcn.org.uk/scotland and on Twitter by following @RCNScot #askformore.


About the author

Theresa Fyffe is director of RCN Scotland

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