LANDMARK legislation which will set a legal benchmark for safe staffing levels in health and care settings is due to come into force in Scotland in April 2024. 

The Scottish Government has set out a 21-month timetable to implement the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act, following delays caused by the pandemic. 

The Act, which was passed by MSPs three years ago, will place a statutory duty on health and social care providers to ensure that staffing levels in hospitals and care homes are appropriate for patient care.

READ MORE: Timetable for safe staffing law 'must be prioritised'

It will also require the Scottish Government to annually report on what they are doing to ensure these staffing thresholds are met and will strengthen the rights of whistleblowers who raise the alarm over potentially dangerous staff shortages.

HeraldScotland:

HeraldScotland: Medical and Dental Consultant vacancies are nearly three times higher compared to a decade ago, while Nursing and Midwifery vacancies have risen 186% since March 2015Medical and Dental Consultant vacancies are nearly three times higher compared to a decade ago, while Nursing and Midwifery vacancies have risen 186% since March 2015

Although NHS Scotland has record numbers of doctors and nurses, staffing has not risen fast enough to meet demand and vacancies have soared. 

Vacancies for medical and dental consultants, by whole-time equivalent (WTE), have tripled from 167.3 in March 2012 to 486.7 by March 2022. 

Unfilled nurse and midwife posts climbed from 2,172.5 in March 2015, to 6,209 by March this year, an increase of 186 per cent.

There are also fears of a post-pandemic staff exodus, with care homes and home care providers already struggling with severe staffing shortages worsened by Covid and Brexit.

Julie Lamberth, chair of the Royal College of Nursing's (RCN) Scotland Board, said: “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.

“This legislation alone will not fix the nursing workforce crisis, it needs to sit alongside fair pay and improved terms, conditions and culture to ensure we can recruit and retain the nursing workforce Scotland needs.”

READ MORE: Hundreds of stillbirths wrongly certified as 'unexplained'

Today’s announcement follows a commitment made by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf to the RCN Congress, which was held in Glasgow earlier this month.

Eileen McKenna, associate director for nursing, policy and professional practice said: “We will focus on making sure that this ground-breaking and vital law works to deliver safe and effective care for patients and residents and improved working conditions for our members.”

The Scottish Government said it will work with professional bodies, trade unions and staff on guidance and tools to support the implementation of the legislation.

This will be piloted by chosen NHS health boards, with learning outcomes shared.

Mr Yousaf said: “This legislation will 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.

“The provisions in the Act will promote safe and appropriate staffing across our NHS and social care services and in turn improve patient experience.

“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.

“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."