Legislation on safe staffing levels for the NHS will be fully implemented in 2024 – some five years after it was passed.
Holyrood approved the Health and Care (Staffing) Act, which aims to ensure that “appropriate staffing levels” are in place, back in 2019.
It was the the first legislation in the UK to set out requirements for safe staffing across both health and care services.
But its implementation was delayed, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Scottish Government has now published a timetable for enacting it, with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) insisting this had come about due to pressure from nurses.
However, Julie Lamberth, chair of the RCN Scotland Board, warned ministers that implementing the legislation along would “not fix the nursing workforce crisis”.
Ms Lamberth said: “RCN members’ campaigning heavily influenced and shaped this legislation. We could see the importance of getting this right for patients and care home residents and for the wellbeing of the workforce.
“It is disappointing that it has taken so long for the Scottish Government to commit to implementation.
“And while we would like to see the Act implemented sooner, nursing staff will be pleased to now have a clear timetable.”
With concerns having been raised about nursing vacancies within the NHS, she also made clear to ministers that “this legislation alone will not fix the nursing workforce crisis”.
Ms Lamberth added: “It needs to sit alongside fair pay and improved terms, conditions and culture, to ensure we can recruit recruit and retain the nursing workforce Scotland needs.”
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said the Act would “mean that the right people with the right skills are in the right place at the right time, ensuring the best outcomes for patients and service users”.
And he said it would “promote safe and appropriate staffing across our NHS and social care services and in turn improve patient experience”.
The legislation was also designed to embed a culture of openness, so that workers feel more able to raise any concerns about staffing matters.
The Health Secretary said: “Measures set out in the Act will support an open and honest culture, where workers are engaged in relevant processes and informed about decisions relating to staffing.”
He continued: “This will be a key feature of our efforts to get the NHS back to full recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic, and build on existing work to increase recruitment and promote staff wellbeing.
“We are absolutely committed to engagement with trade unions and employers in relation to producing the necessary guidance before full implementation of the Act’s provisions.”