Members of Unison passed a motion this morning to campaign for safe staffing legislation in England and Northern Ireland at the union’s annual health conference.
“We, nurses in hospital and community teams, must be prepared to stand together”
The union noted that while Wales had legislated about nurse staffing levels and Scotland had begun the process of doing so, neither England nor Northern Ireland had any legislation on staffing levels.
James Anthony, a Birmingham nurse and member of Unison’s national executive council, told delegates it was down to nurses to “stand together and have power to make sure staffing is safe”.
Mr Anthony, who spoke in favour of the motion, which was submitted by the union’s nursing and midwifery occupational group, said: “Yes, safe staffing tools and legislation are important.
“But it is us, nurses on the coalface, who know what is and isn’t safe. It will be down to us to win safe staffing levels,” he said.
Mr Anthony called on delegates to raise concerns when staffing was not safe and to come together to demand safe staffing, including taking action if necessary to pressurise politicians.
“We, nurses in hospital and community teams, must be prepared to stand together and, where needed, take industrial action to win safe staffing,” he said.
“This motion calls on political parties to commit to legislating for safe staffing levels”
The motion – titled Safe staffing and legislation – stated that the only way to improve retention and begin to reverse the shortage of nurses was to reduce their workloads to a safe, manageable level.
It called on the union’s health service group executive to “reaffirm the demand” that was last made at the same conference in 2017 – namely that political parties “commit to legislating for safe staffing levels, or to defend them where they have already been enacted”.
In addition, the motion called for the importance of ensuring safe and appropriate staffing to be stressed to all employers throughout the year.
It also asked for the progress in Wales to be monitored following the implementation of the legislation there last year, and for the Staffing Bill in Scotland to be monitored too.
Introducing the motion, Linda Hobson, of the nursing and midwifery occupational group, highlighted the large vacancy rates across the profession and noted the demand on nurses to do more.
She said: “Year after year, we see staff working above and beyond to deliver the best for their patient, but at what personal cost?”
“The reality faced by our nurses is that we have a vacancy rate of around 41,000,” said Ms Hobson.
“Nurses are constantly being told to do more, see more and they do it, often putting themselves at risk,” she warned delegates at the conference in Bournemouth.
Ms Hobson, who also used to be a nurse, told attendees how she had lost count of the number of times she went home after a shift “feeling physically and mentally broken”.
She highlighted the “numerous times” she had also supported her colleagues who felt the same way.
“Would more staff make a difference? Well, to many of us nurses it would be like winning the lottery,” she told the conference.
She said: “We congratulate Wales, who have already introduced the legislation, and Scotland, who are in the process, but sadly, England and Northern Ireland are lagging behind.”
“This motion calls on political parties to commit to legislating for safe staffing levels, and here is where our political organising is absolutely vital,” she added.
Motion number 42 called on the health service executive group to:
- Reaffirm the demand last made at the 2017 health conference that political parties commit to legislating for safe staffing levels, or to defend them where they have already been enacted
- Stress to employers the importance of ensuring safe and appropriate staffing levels throughout the year, including during the winter pressure period
- Monitor progress in Wales to ensure that the legislation is being implemented and assess what impact the legislation has had
- Monitor the progress of the Staffing Bill in Scotland to assess whether, if enacted, it impacts on staffing levels on wards
- Monitor the progress of the Safer Nursing Care Tool programme, beginning in February 2019, noting that it is a 12-24 month programme and assess what impact the programme has on staffing levels
- Revise the “Be Safe” guidance for branches to help all members of the nursing family raise their concerns about poor staffing levels and the impact on patient care. The role of “freedom to speak up guardians” to be highlighted within this revised guidance
- Cascade information to members working in England that they can report concerns directly to the CQC if they feel unable to raise them directly with their employer for fear of reprisal or if concerns are not taken seriously