Safe NHS staffing bill ‘will not achieve objective’, MSPs told

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Health leaders have warned a law to ensure safe staffing in the NHS will not achieve its objective as it currently stands.

A panel of expert witnesses told Holyrood’s Health Committee they had serious concerns about the Scottish Government’s Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill.

The legislation will mean NHS boards and care services are legally required to have appropriate numbers of trained staff in place.

The bill is intended to help health and care services in their workload planning, starting with the nursing and midwifery workforce.

Kim Hartley Kean, representing the Allied Health Professions Federation Scotland, said none of its 12 professional bodies could support the Bill as it stands, adding it must be “radically changed”.

“We don’t believe the Bill will achieve its objectives,” she said.

“The Bill plays to an old uni-disciplinary, siloed model of health and social care which seems to go against the grain of modern models of health and social care.

“It doesn’t reflect the reality of multi-disciplinary working and in fact some parts of the Bill seem to specifically exclude AHPs.

“There is a sense we’ve been forgotten.”

She warned the legislation would create unintended consequences by “skewing resources” and tying the hands of health directors.

But asked if it was needed, Ms Hartley Kean added: “It is broken at the moment so yes we do need massive improvement in the way that we’re planning our workforce.”

Dr Sally Gosling, assistant director at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said the Bill “risks focusing staff level legislation on one part of the workforce and potential depleting other parts of the workforce, potentially adding to staff workload in ways that are obviously unhelpful and unintended”.

She said there was a risk of the Bill creating “rigidity, inflexibility and a lack of responsiveness to changing need” and also warned it “risks being a distraction and risks creating a bureaucracy”.

Patricia Cassidy, representing the Chief Officers Group Health and Social Care Scotland, said she was cautious about supporting a legislative approach to staffing.

She said the legislation could potentially add a significant additional layer of administrative bureaucracy and risked stifling innovation in health and social care.

She added: “It could drive resource to focus on being compliant with the requirements of the Bill which potentially could add more administration, potentially divert resources from front-line care.

“The legislation should not create a rigid compliance framework that undermines the new integrated environment for health and social care.

“The one size fits all approach to workforce planning simply won’t work.”

Rachel Cackett, policy adviser at the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: “We would like to see that starting point, that evidence developed both for nursing and for others but we certainly would not wish to see what we have dropped because I think that would be a retrograde step.”

She said the legislation was a crucial patient safety issue and therefore “has to have teeth” with sanctions on the face of the Bill.

“Finally, we need to make sure that there are actually enough staff to care,” she told the committee.

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