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BBC: Nurses call for legislative staffing levels in Scotland

March 7, 2005 -- Today the BBC News web site posted a short, fairly balanced piece reporting that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called on the Scottish Parliament to legislate nurse staffing levels in the health service.

The unsigned piece notes that the call is based at least in part on a recent RCN survey of nearly 8,000 Scottish nurses, in which about 5,000 respondents "rated appropriate nurse-to-patient ratios as the most important factor in improving care." According to the piece, the RCN argues that understaffing demoralizes nurses and harms patients, and that improved staffing would reduce patient infections, falls, medication errors and lengths of stay. The RCN's Dougie Lockhart is quoted as saying that "the situation has got rapidly worse year on year. We can't get core work done. Patients' lives are bound to be at risk if you've only got two or three staff on a 30-bedded medical ward on night duty, for example."

The piece notes that a spokesman for the Scottish Executive has rejected the call, noting that the Executive has no plans to introduce set staffing ratios. The spokesman argues that "workforce planning is about more than raw numbers," pointing to the need to look at the skill mix and patient needs at the local level. The spokesman also states that Scotland has the highest per capita numbers of "nursing and midwifery staff" and "nurses in training" in the UK. Lockhart, anticipating this point, argues that "we have more ill health in Scotland and we have more challenges with geography."

The piece might have briefly discussed the recent experience of states in Australia and the United States with proposed legislative staffing ratios. The nurses could have made their argument stronger by citing research showing that low nurse-to-patient ratios lead to increased patient mortality and morbidity.

See the BBC's article "Call to set nurse staffing levels."