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Safe staffing in Scotland

Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act 2019

RCN report on the nursing workforce in Scotland

RCN Scotland is calling on Scottish government to publish a clear timetable for implementation of the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act ‘as a matter of urgency’.

The call is one of 10 recommendations in a new analysis of workforce statistics and challenges facing workforce planners, published today (29 March).

Other recommendations include calling for:

  • The Scottish government to increase investment in health and care services to employ more nursing staff and achieve safe staffing levels.
  • A commitment to continue to increase the number of nursing student places in line with workforce modelling rather than affordability.

The report RCN Scotland highlights how the record-high vacancy rate for nursing staff is a serious threat to maintaining high quality patient care.

It underlines just how urgently action is needed to repair the harms caused to the nursing workforce by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as years of chronic under-investment before the pandemic.


Implementing safe staffing

The Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act 2019 was passed in the summer of 2019 and its implementation has been delayed by the pandemic. The RCN had been working closely with the Scottish Government to develop statutory guidance and Health Boards were making preparations for implementation too. Regrettably, this work has not yet restarted in any meaningful sense as services continue to focus on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Act is the first in the UK to set out requirements for safe staffing across both health and care services and the reasons for passing this legislation have been made even clearer by the COVID-19 crisis. Safe and effective staffing is a key element to remobilising the NHS safely and ensuring that Scotland’s care homes can safely deliver care to residents.

RCN Scotland is calling for the Act to be implemented as soon as possible. Ensuring safe staffing levels need to be central to the Scottish Government’s proposals for the remobilisation of services and well as workforce planning.

The RCN new Nursing Workforce Standards, are closely aligned to the Act and have been created to explicitly set out what must happen within workplaces to ensure the delivery of safe and effective patient care.

How we got here

The Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act gained Royal Assent on 6 June 2019. It is a ground-breaking piece of legislation as it is the first in the UK to set out requirements for safe staffing across both health and care services and most clinical professions.

The RCN’s ‘Ask for More’ campaign was instrumental in shaping the Act, with the majority of our asks being included.

You can read about how laws are made here and a summary of the legislation here.

Unsustainable pressures

Browse our resources designed to support you during the coming months as you continue to work under pressure to ensure services are delivered in a safe and timely manner across health and care

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Share your experiences with us

In these extraordinary times we want to hear your story wherever you are working - in our communities, care homes or hospitals.

We will use what you share anonymously to inform our work to support our members and to influence decision makers on your behalf.
Share your story

Get involved

RCN Scotland has been working closely with the Scottish Government to develop the statutory guidance needed to implement the legislation.

The Act also permits the development of new workforce tools for clinical areas in healthcare as well as a new staffing method for care services. RCN Scotland has been engaging with the early stages of this work and is calling for the development of new workforce planning tools for health and social care to continue.

We are keen to hear the views of RCN members about how this legislation will work in practice. If you are interested in supporting RCN Scotland’s work on implementation of safe staffing, please get in touch

Supporting our members

The legislation places a number of duties on Health Boards, care providers and Scottish Ministers. If implemented well, it will ensure that nursing staff can raise concerns about staffing levels without fear of repercussions and have these concerns listened to and recorded.

RCN Scotland will be developing a series of resources to help support our members with implementation of this legislation. It is important that nursing staff working in health and social care understand how the legislation will work in practice and what to do if they have concerns about staffing levels.

Check back on this page for updates in the near future.

Raising Concerns

The RCN believes everyone should feel safe and supported when raising concerns about patient care.

Find out what to do if you see poor care or feel you are being prevented from providing safe, compassionate care.
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Page last updated - 18/05/2022