I WRITE in response to last week's View from the Senedd by Vaughan Gething AM in which he discussed changes to the health service in Wales and observed that “professional and clinical bodies are not in the business of misleading the public they treat and care for on the need and reasons for change” (Penarth Times, February 20).
This is particularly apposite given the Minimum Nurse Staffing Levels Bill coming before the Senedd on March 5. The Bill seeks to establish a legal duty for safe nurse staffing levels. Similar legislation has been introduced in California, New South Wales and Victoria (Australia) where it has improved nurse staffing levels and patient care. Studies in California have shown that minimum levels are effective in increasing staffing levels and in reducing mortality rates.
In 2011, the Royal College of Nursing Congress overwhelmingly supported the idea of legally enforceable staffing levels to improve patient care.
Nurse staffing levels in Wales are the lowest in the UK with 10.5 patients per nurse as opposed to a UK average of 8.8, so nurses in Wales have to work 19 per cent harder to deliver an equivalent level of care! These are just the average figures. I know from a family member in the profession that they disguise not infrequent occurrences of extreme under-staffing and the frustration and despair this causes to nurses.
The Welsh Government is considering introducing an ‘acuity tool’ in April that will improve nursing levels. The Chief Nursing Officer for Wales has already recommended nursing levels that are not being met. Without law on the statute book, the acuity tool will be ignored too.
The Welsh Government has also argued that the minimum level could become a target rather than a minimum, thereby reducing nurse levels in some areas. This is not the experience elsewhere. In any case even if this were to happen in most hospitals in Wales it would still be an improvement.
There is also the issue of cost. We have spent £132 million on overtime and bank nurses in the last three years. This is a lot more expensive than employing full-time permanent nurses so there are savings to be made.
In California where this was introduced there was an initial cost but they found that in the medium term it was cost neutral as better outcomes meant less money spent elsewhere.
I agree with Mr Gething when he goes on to say “the problem with the ‘no change’ view is that it places the status quo above improving outcomes for patients”.
This Bill will improve outcomes for patients, it has the support of the other parties in the Senedd and I urge Mr Gething and his Welsh Government colleagues to allow it to proceed. The Bill could lead to Wales being the first country in the UK to place a legal duty on NHS managers to ensure that our nursing services are properly staffed at all times. Cymru am Byth!