Nursing leaders in Wales are “disappointed” at the Welsh health minister’s decision not to widen safe staffing legislation to cover community nursing and mental health inpatient wards.
The issue was debated in the Welsh parliament on Wednesday afternoon, after a petition calling for an extension to the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016 received more than 10,000 signatures.
Section 25B of the act places a legal duty on health boards and NHS trusts to calculate nurse staffing levels and to ensure that they are maintained at safe levels, following a specified methodology.
Originally, the requirement only applied to adult acute medical and surgical inpatient settings, but it was extended in 2021 to also apply to paediatric inpatient wards.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Wales has been campaigning for the safe staffing requirement to be applied across all settings where nursing care is provided, starting with community nursing and mental health inpatient wards.
The parliamentary debate was opened by Buffy Williams, member of the Senedd (MS) for Rhondda, who argued that the government should extend section 25B of the act “to give the Welsh public the full team of nurses they desperately need”.
The petition was supported by representatives of the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru.
However, Welsh minister for health and social services Eluned Morgan said she was “unable to agree” with the petition’s assertion that extending section 25B would create the right workforce skill mix across the health and care system in Wales.
She said: “It’s simply inaccurate to suggest that extending section 25B to all of those areas would result in giving Wales the full team of nurses, as the petition puts it, and that’s simply because, at the moment, those nurses don’t exist.”
Ms Morgan argued that an increased focus on nurse retention was needed, to complement current efforts to recruit and train nurses in Wales.
She added that she had therefore asked Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) to do more work on retention of nursing staff specifically.
“It appears that what those who have signed this petition are saying is that they want the right number of nurses and healthcare staff in the system to meet the care needs of the people of Wales – and that’s my aspiration too – but a legislative pledge that cannot be delivered won’t secure that and I can’t commit the Welsh government to that approach,” Ms Morgan concluded.
Director of RCN Wales Helen Whyley said that the college was “disappointed” with the outcome of the debate.
“More than 10,000 people in Wales took time to sign our petition calling for patient safety and the discussion did not do it justice,” she said.
“Safe nurse staffing levels are an important concern for the nursing professionals and, more importantly, patients in Wales.
“The health minister did not recognise the success of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016, or the importance of the duty in 25B to use a triangulated approach to set nurse staffing levels and therefore keep patients safe.”
She added: “RCN Wales will continue to call for safe nurse staffing levels through the extension of Section 25B of the Nurse Staffing Level (Wales) Act 2016, next to community nursing and mental health in patient areas, as we know it is a top priority for the nursing profession and patients in Wales.”