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UK countries must share resources for safe staffing legislation

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Nursing leaders from across the UK have come together to discuss safe staffing legislation with those working on the frontline at this year’s Royal College of Nursing congress.

During Monday’s fringe events and resolutions at the conference in Liverpool, RCN leads from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland joined arms to inform members of the latest information on safe staffing and explained how each of the countries’ campaigns were “sharing resources” to move forward.

“The context of the four countries are different, but really the problems are the same”

Denise Llewellyn

Chair of the afternoon fringe session, Denise Llewellyn, who is also chair of RCN Foundation Welsh Committee, opened the discussion by telling members that despite the college’s campaigns being different across the UK, “the problems are the same”.

During the session, which was titled: ‘Staffing for safe and effective care: The UK Campaign’, Ms Llewellyn said: “The campaigns are different in each of the four countries, but actually one thing that is very similar across the UK is that the nursing workforce is in crisis.”

Across the UK, the RCN is campaigning for laws ensuring safe and effective staffing.

In 2016, Wales introduced the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016, which currently covers adult inpatient wards and surgical wards. Recent plans from the Welsh government state that this law aims to be extended by the end of 2020, with paediatric inpatients earmarked a priority.

In Scotland, the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill was passed earlier this month to ensure its health and social care services are safely staffed.

A campaign for the legislation in England was launched earlier this year by the college and in Northern Ireland the RCN has described progress in the matter as “challenging due to a lack of government”.

Ms Llewellyn said: “We are demanding clear laws that ensure the right number of nurses, with the right skills, in the right place, so we can deliver the level of care that we came into this profession to do.

“The context of the four countries are different, but really the problems are the same, so ultimately the legislation that we want and the principles that we want remain the same in the RCN,” she added.

“We know that it’s no good saying we need 15 nurses on that ward if there aren’t enough nurses”

Patricia Marquis

Earlier this year, the RCN developed a set of five common principles – through member engagement – that it wants the law to enable across the UK countries. These principles cover accountability, numbers, strategy, plans and education.

When asked, congress attendees said they would not argue with these key principles.

Director of RCN Scotland, Theresa Fyffe, then went on to explain why the campaigns were in different stages.

She told members when you have “political momentum you can move to legislation much easier”.

Ms Fyffe explained that following the latest updates in Wales and Scotland, the plan now is to recognise across the four countries how opportunities can be maximised.

For example, she said, by linking pay campaigns to safe staffing and recruitment. In addition, Ms Fyffe flagged the importance of “learning” from each campaign.

She told attendees that when Scotland got the grant there was a “shared learning” between Wales and Scotland.

“I don’t think legislation is a once and for all kind of manoeuvre”

Anne Marie Rafferty

“And now the same continues for Wales and Scotland and sharing resources with England and Northern Ireland,” she said. “And in the end, having a fantastic organisational bank of memory and of resources, and of different ways of work. That is the plan.”

Also sitting on the panel for the session was Patricia Marquis, who is the director of RCN England and leading the England campaign.

patricia marquis

patricia marquis

Source: Gareth Harmer

Patricia Marquis

Ms Marquis picked up on members questions about why ratios had not been included in the legislation so far, such as the way Australia does it.

“We are continuing to look at the evidence of what legislation across the world has helped and what has made a difference to see what might influence us,” she said.

She added that while ratios may be an easy message for nurses, it might not be the right one in terms of public messaging.

“We’ve got to work out what the best way to get the public on board is,” she said.

Ms Marquis also answered a question on how the legislation would make a difference if there aren’t enough nurses to implement it.

“There are a number of students in the room wearing their fund our future T-shirts, which is an England campaign around how we fund students, because we know that it’s no good saying we need 15 nurses on that ward if there aren’t enough nurses,” she said.

Ms Marquis said an accountability framework that “starts at the top and makes someone accountable for there being enough people in the first place” was needed.

RCN president Professor Anne Marie Rafferty was also a panel member for the session.

anne marie rafferty

Anne Marie Rafferty

Anne Marie Rafferty

She said to members: “I don’t think legislation is a once and for all kind of manoeuvre.

“It may be that there are other interventions that are added to the practice through the guidance that can help strengthen the method so that it is nudging upwards and optimising the staffing that we wish to see enhanced,” she added.

The panel for the session included: Professor Rafferty, Ms Fyffe, Rita Delvin from RCN Northern Ireland, RCN Scotland board chair, Tom Wilson, Billy Nichols from the RCN Wales board, and Kevin Morley from the RCN health practitioner committee.

The fringe event was one of many safe staffing sessions that is due to be held at congress this week.

Professor Rafferty is set to hold a lecture on the matter this evening.

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