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New RCN film to celebrate safe nurse staffing law in Wales

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A film celebrating Welsh nurses’ historic campaign to make safe staffing legally binding has had its premiere in Cardiff.

An Act of Compassion, a film with a book tie-in, tells the story of how the Royal College of Nursing Wales successfully lobbied for new safe staffing legislation.

“The book and film document the journey RCN members undertook”

Tina Donnelly

The Nurse Staffing Levels Act (Wales) 2016 is the first of its kind in Europe. The Act places a statutory duty on Health Boards and NHS Trusts to ensure they have enough registered nurses working on hospital wards.

From April this year they were required to calculate appropriate nurse staffing levels using a specific methodology, which involves professional judgement, an evidence-based workforce planning tool, and consideration of how sensitive patients are to nursing care.

The idea had a long gestation period. It first came about from an informal meeting more than 10 years ago between RCN Wales Director Tina Donnelly and her colleague Lisa Turnbull, the organisation’s policy and public adviser.

Once the notion took hold it became the focus of RCN Wales’s lobbying. Ms Donnelly said the film relates the long journey RCN Wales has been on and what it hopes the next step in the process will be.

“The book and film document the journey RCN members undertook, from first identifying the issue of insufficient nursing numbers, to the present, that sees us working closely with the Welsh government to extend the scope of the Act to cover other areas of nursing care,” she said.

“Nursing was the canary in the coalmine for patients”

Anne Marie Rafferty

RCN Wales and other bodies presented evidence to the Welsh Government Health and Social Services committee to help the legislative process go forward. The evidence of Professor Anne Marie Rafferty is said to have been “pivotal” to the RCN submissions.

The ensuing report uncovered that there was a 29% higher risk of patient mortality on the most seriously understaffed wards.

Professor Rafferty argued that nurses were able to provide the first-hand evidence that inadequate staffing levels had a significant impact on patient care and safety.

Royal College of Nursing Wales

Sister says working A&E night shift is more stressful than war zone

Tina Donnelly

“Nursing was the canary in the coalmine for patients,” she said. “This landmark legislation in Wales makes history and highlights the importance of evidence-based staffing policy for nursing.” 

RCN Wales board chair Gaynor Jones said: “I cannot tell you how delighted I was when royal assent was granted to the act in 2016. And now we are seeing it in action.

”I offer my sincere thanks to everyone who worked so hard to see that day dawn – particularly our members, staff and the members of the board including the Welsh board chairs at the time,” she said.

She added: “I know anyone who, like me, works on a ward – or who has a loved one in hospital – will be able to see the very tangible benefits of this new law – and how wonderful it is that Wales is the first country in Europe to adopt it.”

The film premiere also marks the start of the campaign to extend the legislation to cover children and mental health wards.

An Act of Compassion has a running time of 41 minutes. It was directed by Greg Lewis who won a BAFTA Cymru award in 2012 for ‘The Bullseye Killer’.

RCN Wales plans to put the entire film online together with a short two minute version.

The aim is to do a sequel in two or three years when the act has been extended to other areas of healthcare such as paediatrics and mental health, Ms Donnelly said.

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