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No plan to make NHS safe staffing a legal requirement in England

Insistence that responsibility for nurse-patient ratio should remain with employers at local level, despite legislation in other UK nations, condemned by unions
Staffing level boards at a hospital in Grimsby, north Lincolnshire

Insistence that responsibility for nurse-patient ratio should remain with employers at local level, despite legislation in other UK nations, condemned by unions

The government has no plans to introduce safe staffing legislation in England – a move unions have branded ‘bitterly disappointing’.

When contacted by Nursing Standard about enshrining safe staffing levels in law the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said staffing is the responsibility of employers, despite other countries in the UK having already passed laws to protect staffing levels.

‘We have no current plans to introduce safe staffing legislation in England. We believe

Insistence that responsibility for nurse-patient ratio should remain with employers at local level, despite legislation in other UK nations, condemned by unions

Staffing level boards at a hospital in Grimsby, north Lincolnshire
Picture: Guzelian

The government has no plans to introduce safe staffing legislation in England – a move unions have branded ‘bitterly disappointing’.

When contacted by Nursing Standard about enshrining safe staffing levels in law the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said staffing is the responsibility of employers, despite other countries in the UK having already passed laws to protect staffing levels.

‘We have no current plans to introduce safe staffing legislation in England. We believe the responsibility for staffing levels should remain with employers at a local level, responding to local needs, and overseen and regulated by the Care Quality Commission,’ a DHSC spokesperson said.

Unions have hit out at the government’s stance, saying safe staffing legislation is vital for patient care.

RCN demands strategy setting out how many nursing staff the NHS will need in future

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: ‘This is bitterly disappointing for nursing staff struggling to do their best by patients, because staffing levels are so poor,’ she said.

‘Patients will also be troubled now the government is moving further and further away from considering laws to safeguard patient care.’

She called on the government to prioritise a fully funded workforce strategy that sets out how many nursing staff the NHS will need in future.

UNISON national nursing officer Stuart Tuckwood echoed calls for enough nurses to be ‘trained, recruited and retained’.

‘Nurses and their colleagues have an uphill struggle to provide safe care in the NHS in England. There are routinely too few of them and often teams don’t have the right level of experience or skills for the quality of care that’s needed,’ he said.

‘Nurse staffing legislation – that’s been adopted or is being developed in devolved administrations – is also vital to ensure safe, quality patient care in England.’

Safe staffing across the rest of the UK

Safe staffing legislation has already been passed in Wales and Scotland and is being developed in Northern Ireland.

Wales became the first country in Europe to pass a law on safe nurse staffing levels in adult acute medical and surgical inpatient wards in 2018. Scotland followed suit in 2019.

Northern Ireland is currently developing safe staffing legislation, a commitment from the government that ended strike action by RCN members in early 2020.

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Department of Health said the legislation is expected to be introduced early in the new assembly following an election due to take place in May.


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