Draft laws on safe nurse staffing levels in Wales have moved one step closer to being introduced across the country, after Welsh Assembly members voted in favour of supporting them.
If passed into law, the Safe Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Bill would see Wales become the first country in the UK with a legal duty on safe nurse staffing levels in acute settings.
Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Democrats, who originally submitted the proposals for safe nurse staffing levels in hospitals, said she was “pleased” the idea had gained support from all parties.
“A number of changes would have to be reflected in any amended bill in order to secure government support”
The vote today in the Welsh Assembly represents the end of stage one of the bill. It will now progress to stage two where it will be considered for a second time by the assembley’s health and social care committee and face a first round of amendments.
Under the assembly’s normal process, the bill would then have to survive two further stages before it can become legislation.
In a report issued last month, the health and social care committee said it supported the bill but made a number of suggested changes to the legislation.
These included a requirement for guidance to ensure compliance with the safe staffing ratios in adult inpatient wards in acute hospitals – the setting the law is intended for – does not have an adverse effect on nurse staffing levels in other NHS settings.
“This significant vote brings safe staffing levels in all of our hospitals a step closer”
Another of the 19 recommendations was to ensure the law does not come into effect until “reasonable time” has passed to allow for additional recruitment of nurses.
At the debate today, health minister Mark Drakeford reiterated that while he agreed with the bill’s intention, he said “a number of changes would have to be reflected in any amended bill in order to secure government support” at the final stage.
He said there were two “essential” areas where he wanted to see amendments introduced.
Mr Drakeford said he would like to see detail in the bill on the methods that managers should be using to set nursing ratios locally.
He said the government recognised the exact number of patients to nurses would vary according to different circumstances.
“Because of the need of that sort of flexibility, the number, we believe, should be derived through three interrelated strands,” he said.
“All of which should appear on the face of the bill – use of the chief nursing officer’s acuity tool, a set of nurse sensitive indicators and the professional judgement of senior staff on the spot,” said Mr Drakeford.
“This vote has demonstrated to the people of Wales that health and patient care is the top priority”
Meanwhile, he said, he also agreed with the health and social care committee’s recommendation for a review of the extra reporting requirement that would be placed upon organisations if the legislation were introduced.
“The bill…must be reviewed to ensure its reporting requirements do not create additional bureaucracy – in particular for nursing staff – and that these are aligned with the frequency and the structure of existing reporting requirements,” he said.
Commenting after today’s debate, Ms Williams said: “This significant vote brings safe staffing levels in all of our hospitals a step closer.
“The premise of my ‘more nurses bill’ is very simple – nurses who have fewer patients to care for, can spend more time with each patient,” she said. “As a result, they can provide better, safer care.”
The Royal College of Nursing said it was “delighted” at the assembly’s vote in favour of the bill.
RCN Wales director Tina Donnelly said: “This vote has demonstrated to the people of Wales that health and patient care is the top priority.
“This is another important step in protecting patients and improving health care in Wales,” she added.