Nurses in Wales are being asked for their views on draft legislation that could see the country become the first part of the UK to enshrine safe staffing levels in law.
The ground-breaking bill, drawn up by Welsh Liberal Democrats leader Kirsty Williams, would impose a legal duty on NHS organisations to maintain minimum nurse-to-patient ratios on adult inpatient wards in acute hospitals.
“The bill will require ministers to issue guidance to health service bodies with the duties on safe staffing”
The draft Safe Nursing Staff Levels (Wales) Bill itself does not specify recommended ratios. These would need to be set out later in new government guidance.
However, the bill makes it clear that leadership roles, such as ward managers and senior midwives, should be supernumerary and staffing plans must factor in time for induction, professional development, mentoring and supervision, and also planned and unplanned leave.
In addition, the draft document would require hospitals to stick to minimum skill mix ratios for nurses and healthcare assistants.
A formal consultation on the draft document is due to run until 12 September and Ms Williams will be touring Welsh hospitals to find out what nurses think of the proposed law.
She said she recognised the need to preserve flexibility, because of concerns that set ratios would be too rigid and take away nurses’ ability to use their own judgement.
“The need to preserve flexibility in order to respond to patient need and local circumstance was a key theme in consultation responses,” she said.
“The bill will therefore require ministers to issue guidance to health service bodies with the duties on safe staffing, which recognises the important role of acuity and dependency workforce planning tools, the exercise of professional judgement, and the need for an appropriate skill mix.”
If passed, the new law would mean every NHS body in Wales would have to publish an annual compliance report , including the number of times the safe staffing duty had been breached and action taken to prevent it happening again.
The legislation is due to be introduced to the assembly by the end of the year. It would only apply to acute hospitals at first, but ministers would have the power to extend it to other healthcare settings in the future.
More than 3,000 people have already signed a petition or written to their Welsh Assembly member urging them to back the bill.