A Bill seeking to create a legal framework that clarifies the roles, responsibilities and accountability for the supply, recruitment and retention of nurses in England was brought to the House of Commons today (8 October).
Maria Caulfield MP, who is a nurse and a member of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said that she brought the Bill forward ‘to establish legally enforceable nursing staffing levels in the NHS in England.’
Similar legislation was passed in Wales in 2016 and in Scotland in June of this year with the passing of the Hospital and Care Staffing Act.
It comes as the latest vacancy statistics for England show 43,617 nursing vacancies, leaving 12% of full-time nursing posts now unfilled. This is an increase of more than 10% since the previous quarter.
Ms Caulfield explained the first aim of the Bill is ‘to make the Government accountable for nursing levels in England, as currently no one is accountable for nursing levels in England and that is why we have such a high nursing vacancy rate – no one is responsible and no one is accountable for nursing numbers, and that is why we have a lack of strategic action to address this.’
The second and third aims of the Bill are centred around a fully costed workforce strategy and nursing numbers. Ms Caulfield pointed out that currently there are no legally enforceable nursing numbers for any healthcare sector in England.
‘We need legally enforceable numbers so that nurses and patients can be protected from unsafe care and that someone is held to account if this doesn’t happen,’ she said.
Finally, the Bill seeks to legislate the provision of training and education for nurses throughout the length of their career. ‘If we want nurses to take on more advanced roles… the Government needs to be responsible for ensuring that training happens. This needs to be in terms of paying for training, but also to allow study leave.’
A report by the RCN also released today highlights the impact of the nursing shortages on staffing levels across health and care services and on patient safety.