World Patient Safety Day 2020

 Eileen McKenna 17 Sep 2020

To mark World Patient Safety Day, Eileen McKenna, RCN Scotland Associate Director for Nursing Policy & Professional Practice discusses why implementation of Scotland’s “safe staffing” legislation is more important than ever.

In May last year we celebrated the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act being passed by the Scottish Parliament and to mark World Patient Safety Day 2019, I wrote about the work that lay ahead to ensure the Act can make a difference to patients and health and care staff. A year later and so much has happened that we couldn’t have anticipated. Implementation of the Act has been paused due to the pandemic and we are still seeking clarity about when it will come into force.

The Act is the first legislation in the UK to set out requirements for safe staffing across both health and care services and was the result of a determined campaign by the RCN. It’s important because research shows there is a direct link between staff having the time to care and positive patient outcomes. And our members have told us time and again about the negative impact that poor staffing levels are having on their work, their patients and their wellbeing.

60% of respondents to our 2019 employment survey reported feeling too busy to provide the level of patient care they would like. In June, one of our biggest ever member surveys found that 34% of respondents in Scotland said staffing levels had worsened during the pandemic.

The Act places a duty on NHS and social care providers to make sure that, at all times, there are suitably qualified and competent staff working in the right numbers to ensure safe and effective care. Working in an environment where they are supported, have time for learning and have safe staffing levels will give health and care staff the time to provide the best care for patients. The Act also requires NHS boards to seek clinical advice when making staffing decisions and to establish a clear process for concerns about unsafe staffing levels to be reported and escalated. If implemented well, this will ensure nursing staff can raise concerns without fear of repercussions and have these concerns heard and responded to.

Care homes have been at the centre of the COVID-19 crisis, despite the commitment of staff to try to keep residents as safe as possible. It has taken this crisis for there to be a proper recognition of the increasing clinical complexity within care homes and it is clear that going forward, there must be proper assessment of staffing needs within care homes, ensuring the right skills are in place to provide care and support for residents depending on their (changing) individual needs.

It is understandable that work to prepare for implementing the Act was paused as staff across Scotland’s health and care services threw everything into responding to the COVID-19 emergency. But the reasons for passing the Act have not gone away, if anything, they have been made clearer by the crisis. 

That’s why this World Patient Safety Day, we’re calling for a clear timetable for implementation of Scotland’s safe staffing Act, including Part 3 which covers the care sector. Safe and effective staffing is a key element of remobilising the NHS safely and ensuring that Scotland’s care homes can safely deliver care to residents with increasingly complex health needs.

Eileen McKenna

Associate Director, RCN Scotland

Eileen McKenna is Associate Director (Professional Practice), RCN Scotland.

Page last updated - 17/09/2020