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Scottish legislation on safe staffing

The Scottish Government is developing a Bill on safe staffing in Scotland. This follows a commitment made by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at RCN Congress in Glasgow in 2016.

Evidence shows that the right number of registered nurses caring for patients is linked to better outcomes for patients and safer care. Safe and effective staffing in every health and care setting will ensure that people using services are safe and well cared for, wherever they are. This must be underpinned by a long-term and robust approach to getting workforce planning right.

RCN members and staff have been working hard to make sure that, as the bill develops, the nursing voice is heard.  The final bill is expected to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament before the end of June. The RCN has been clear that poor or weak legislation will not strengthen nursing or protect patients. 

We will continue to work over the summer with our members, the public and politicians to seek support for safe staffing legislation that has a positive and real lasting impact on nursing teams and patients.

We have published three reports to date, Staffing for Safe and Effective Care: Nursing on the Brink in May 2018, Safe and Effective Staffing: Nursing Against the Odds in September 2017, and Safe and Effective Staffing: the Real Picture in May 2017.

Our most recent report provides further insight into the staffing levels and experience of nursing staff for over 30,000 shifts across the UK. The message from members is clear: when there is a shortfall of staff, patient care suffers. Read our comment on this new report and findings from a poll of members of the public, which highlights public concerns over staffing levels.

We will continue to engage with our members and the public over the coming months as we move forward with our campaign for safe and effective staffing levels in each country of the UK.

Safe staffing

Staffing for Safe and Effective Care: Nursing on the Brink

RCN principles for achieving safe and effective care.

Read report

Safe and Effective Staffing: Nursing Against the Odds

Based on over 30,000 responses from nursing staff, this RCN report shows how nursing staff shortages are compromising patient care.

Safe and Effective Staffing: The Real Picture

RCN report from May 2017 on the current situation in the UK and what needs to be done to address the issues.
What’s happening across the UK?

Safe staffing legislation which covers NHS hospitals has already been introduced in Wales. The RCN is continuing to campaign to ensure that this law improves the situation for nursing teams and their patients. The RCN is also working with the Welsh Government to extend the legislation to other areas of nursing.

In Northern Ireland there is no law on nurse staffing levels, but the Department of has outlined nurse staffing in the Delivering Care framework.


In England there is no law related to nurse staffing. NHS Trusts have not been told to use specific workforce planning tools, but resources and national guidance are used to support local decision making on staffing.

More information about our UK work on safe staffing can be found on our UK Safe Staffing page.