‘Staffing crisis putting patients at risk’ – new UNISON survey reveals scale of the short-staffing in Scotland’s NHS


UNISON has today (Tuesday) revealed a survey which shows the widespread failure of the Scottish government to prepare the NHS for the country’s new Safe Staffing Act.

Despite the Act coming into effect on April 5, Scottish government guidance was only made a few days prior, meaning the majority of staff have still received no training or guidance on the new rights and obligations under the Act.

The survey lays bare the reality of working in Scotland’s NHS and reveals:

· Eight in ten staff no longer have confidence in existing procedures for dealing with inadequate staffing
· Almost two thirds (65%) of staff were unaware of the NHS Safe Staffing legislation
· An overwhelming majority (89%) of staff had received no training on the new regulations

Matt McLaughlin, UNISON Scotland’s head of health, said: “The government has had over four years to prepare for this new law, yet guidance was only made available four days before it became law.

“There’s a direct link between staffing levels and high quality outcomes for patients. Our members repeatedly tell us they do not have enough staff or enough time to give patients the care they need and deserve.

“In wards where they do meet staffing requirements, there is often not the correct skill mix to meet patients’ needs. This puts patients’ safety at risk and puts staff in unacceptably stressful situations.

“The reality is that staff don’t believe things are safe and NHS staff are left picking up the slack while no one holds their hospitals accountable.”

UNISON says many incidents of short-staffing is not reported as the recording tool, Datix, is time-consuming and cumbersome, meaning many incidents of short-staffing are not reported. We also received many reports that staff were discouraged from making reports at all.

Matt McLaughlin continued: “The Scottish government does not have a true picture of the scale of the short-staffing situation in the NHS as incidents of short-staffing are chronically under-reported – staff simply do not have the time. And an obvious weakness is that key support staff are not included.

“The Act is potentially a powerful tool for driving up standards – but it can only make a difference if people know how to use it. And when incidents are reported, there is help from health boards to fix the situation.

Despite the Act being in place for almost a month, the majority of staff have received no training on the new legislation. The Scottish government is failing patients and staff and it’s high time it prioritised tackling the staffing crisis in the NHS.”

Further information

· You can view UNISON Scotland’s NHS staffing survey here: https://unison-scotland.org/wp-content/uploads/010524-NHS-safe-staffing-survey-FINAL-DP-TH.pdf More than 3,500 NHS members who are covered by the Act took part in the survey.

· Case studies are available on request. You can make a bid by contacting d.phillips@unison.co.uk

· UNISON is Scotland’s largest health union and represents health workers across the NHS including nurses, midwives, paramedics, porters and administrative workers.

· The Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act 2019 – more commonly known as the Safe Staffing Act – came into force in April 2024. It places a duty on health boards to ensure adequate numbers of appropriately qualified staff are working in healthcare settings.

Comments from NHS staff

“Our ward is always short staffed, I can count on one hand the amount of shifts that have actually been fully staffed in the last 2 years” Staff nurse, Highland

“Increased staff patient ratios recently due to surge in beds being used in non traditional bed spaces such as corridors. This is being accepted as normal practice within the organisation.” Occupational therapist, NHS Grampian

“Have been on nightshifts when there have been only 2 midwives and me with a full ward of 24 mums and babies.” Maternity care assistant, NHS Lothian

“Regularly work on a night shift as the only band 5 for 27 mental health patients.” Staff nurse, NHS Lothian

“Nurses simply do not have the time to give the patients the time and care they deserve.” Staff nurse, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde

“No point in doing datix as nothing gets done.” Staff nurse, NHS Lothian

Ending Violence at Work: A Vital Campaign for Safer Public Services


In a concerning trend, instances of workplace violence, particularly in public services, have been on the rise. Employees face verbal abuse, threats, and even physical assaults simply for performing their duties. This issue not only impacts the well-being of workers but also the quality of services provided to the community.

Understanding the Scale of the Problem

Recent statistics from the Health and Safety Executive, based on the Crime Survey for England and Wales, estimate that there were 688,000 instances of violence and aggression at work across the UK between 2019 and 2020. These figures underscore a harsh reality—many of these incidents go unreported, leaving the true scale of the problem even larger.

UNISON’s Proactive Approach

UNISON, one of the leading unions in the UK, is at the forefront of advocating for the safety of public service workers through its End Violence at Work Campaign. The campaign is supported by the Violence at Work Charter, which serves as a comprehensive framework aimed at urging local councils and organisations to adopt serious measures to protect their employees.

The Charter's Impact

By meeting the standards outlined in the UNISON Violence at Work Charter, organizations can demonstrate to their workforce and stakeholders that they are committed to creating a safe working environment. This commitment is crucial in sectors such as social and healthcare, law enforcement, education, and housing—where employees are frequently in direct contact with the public and, consequently, at increased risk.

Digital Advocacy Tools

A notable innovation in UNISON’s campaign is the launch of a new website that provides access to data on recorded incidents of workplace violence. It also offers tools for individuals to directly engage with local councilors. Users can email their councilors to encourage them to sign up for the charter and advocate for its adoption at local council meetings.

Legislative Successes and Future Goals

UNISON’s efforts have already yielded significant outcomes. The successful campaign for the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 is a testament to the union’s impact, providing greater protection for police and emergency service workers, as well as NHS staff. Building on this success, UNISON continues to push for extending these protections to all public service workers.

Call to Action

The call to end violence at work is more urgent than ever. Each one of us can contribute by raising awareness, advocating for protective policies, and supporting campaigns like that of UNISON. Visit LINK HERE to find out how you can get involved and help make our workplaces safer for everyone.


It is unacceptable for workers to face violence while simply doing their jobs. By supporting initiatives like UNISON's End Violence at Work Campaign, we can help ensure that public service workplaces are not only productive but also safe. Let’s stand together to protect those who serve our communities every day.


Addressing the Staffing Crisis in NHS Scotland

Insights from a Recent Survey


The staffing crisis in NHS Scotland has reached a critical juncture. According to a recent survey conducted by UNISON Scotland, an overwhelming number of healthcare workers have reported severe under-staffing issues that jeopardize both patient care and worker welfare. This blog post dives into the findings of this survey, shedding light on the pressing challenges and proposing pathways for change.

Survey Findings: A System Under Strain

The UNISON Scotland survey, which included responses from a variety of NHS staff across Scotland, paints a grim picture of the current staffing situation. Only 16% of respondents believe their employer is sufficiently addressing staffing concerns. A staggering 80% expressed no confidence in existing measures to ensure safe staffing levels, with many unaware of recent legislation intended to improve conditions.

Here are some critical insights from the survey:

Many respondents indicated that moving staff across wards to cover shortages has become a routine practice, leading to a dilution of specialized care and increased workloads.

Shockingly, 89% of respondents had not received any training related to the new 'Safe Staffing Act,' which mandates employers to train staff on their rights under this new legislation.

Numerous healthcare workers reported compromised patient care and increased personal stress due to inadequate staffing. Situations of being single-handedly responsible for high numbers of patients were frequently described, highlighting severe safety risks.

Voices from the Front Line

The personal testimonials included in the survey bring the data to life. One nurse shared, "Our ward is always short staffed. I can count on one hand the amount of shifts I’ve done that have actually been fully staffed in the last 2 years." These stories are not isolated incidents but a common theme throughout NHS Scotland, representing a systemic failure to maintain safe staffing levels.

The Path Forward: Leveraging the Safe Staffing Act

While the 'Safe Staffing Act' has been introduced as a potential solution to these chronic issues, the lack of awareness and implementation is concerning. The act is designed to ensure adequate numbers of properly trained staff in healthcare settings. However, as the survey indicates, a significant gap exists between the policy's intentions and its real-world application.

Conclusion: A Call to Action

The findings of the UNISON Scotland survey serve as a call to action. It is imperative for NHS Scotland and related healthcare authorities to prioritize the implementation of the 'Safe Staffing Act' and ensure that all healthcare workers are aware of and trained in their rights under this new law. Moreover, NHS management must adopt more sustainable staffing practices to safeguard the health and safety of both patients and staff.

By addressing these urgent issues, we can begin to restore confidence among NHS staff, improve patient care standards, and build a more resilient healthcare system. It’s time for all stakeholders involved to step up and turn the tide on this crisis. The wellbeing of Scotland’s citizens depends on it.

The Whole Story 2024 - Work related Injuries / Illnesses

In the updated February 2024 edition of "The Whole Story: Work-related injuries, illness, and deaths," the document highlights an urgent global health and safety crisis affecting workers across various sectors. This comprehensive report, rooted in the latest data and analysis, serves as a clarion call for immediate action to safeguard workers' health and safety.

The Global Context

The document begins by reminding us of the International Labour Organization's (ILO) recognition of safe and healthy work as a fundamental principle, emphasizing its importance as a labor right crucial to decent work. The stark reality is presented through ILO's estimation: worldwide, work-related fatalities surpass the number of deaths caused by wars annually, with 2.78 million work-related deaths and more than 374,000 nonfatal occupational health injuries and illnesses globally. This alarming statistic underscores a critical point made by Jukka Takala of the ILO, who compares the global inaction on work-related deaths to the response that would ensue if terrorism claimed as many lives .

Underestimation of Work-Related Harm

The report criticizes the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for not publishing the total number of people killed through work-related incidents and diseases, arguing that evidence-based estimates of work-related harm are essential for policy development and resource allocation. It accuses employers of non-compliance and criminal negligence, contributing to a significant underestimation of the risks faced by workers and the public. By relying on estimates from various sources, the Hazards Campaign attempts to present a more realistic summary of the numbers of people killed, injured, and made ill by work .

The COVID-19 Impact

A significant portion of the document is dedicated to discussing the impact of COVID-19 on work-related fatalities, indicating that the pandemic has further complicated the assessment of work-related deaths. The analysis includes data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and highlights the challenges in estimating the number of work-related deaths due to COVID-19, as they are not systematically recorded, reported, or investigated ​​.

Occupational Health Challenges

The document outlines several occupational health challenges, including the underreporting of diseases that should be notified under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations). It notes that many workers with long COVID are not being provided with appropriate reasonable adjustments, and despite recommendations to classify long COVID as an industrial disease for some workers, the government has yet to respond​​.

Economic Costs

On the economic front, the Hazards Campaign estimates the cost of harm to society due to poor workplace health and safety to be between £30 and £60 billion, significantly higher than the HSE's estimate of £20.7 billion. This disparity underscores the financial burden of workplace injuries and illnesses, with the costs predominantly borne by individuals and families, rather than the employers responsible for the harm​​.

Call for Action

The document concludes with a call to action, urging for comprehensive policy reforms, increased transparency, and accountability from employers and governmental bodies. It advocates for the adoption of more rigorous safety and health standards to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths, emphasizing the need for a collective effort to address this global crisis.

"The Whole Story: Work-related injuries, illness, and deaths" serves not only as a detailed account of the current state of workplace health and safety but also as a powerful advocacy tool for change. By presenting data-driven evidence and personal narratives, the document aims to galvanize support for a safer and healthier work environment for all.

Link to Document

Tackling Plastic Pollution Through Green Skills Training: A Step Towards Sustainability

In the current era, where the environmental footprint of human activity is more scrutinized than ever, the urgency to adopt sustainable practices has become paramount. Among the myriad of ecological concerns, plastic pollution stands out as a persistent and pervasive issue, threatening marine life, disrupting ecosystems, and contributing to health problems in humans and animals alike. Recognizing the critical need for action, a novel initiative has emerged in the form of the "Green Skills Training - Plastic Pollution" course, designed to empower individuals with the knowledge and tools to combat this pressing issue.

Understanding the Gravity of Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution is a multifaceted problem, with repercussions that extend beyond the visible litter in our streets and oceans. It encompasses a wide range of environmental, health, and economic issues. Plastics, being durable and slow to degrade, can persist in the environment for hundreds of years, leading to the accumulation of debris in natural habitats. The course aims to shed light on these challenges, offering participants a comprehensive overview of the problem at hand.

Course Overview

Scheduled for Thursday, 23rd May, from 12:30 PM to 2:00 PM, this fully funded, online session invites members to delve into the complexities of plastic pollution. By exploring topics such as the inherent problems with plastic usage, its everyday implications, the connection between plastics and climate change, and the concerning issue of chemical pollution, the course provides a holistic understanding of the subject matter.

Key Learning Outcomes

Participants will be equipped with critical insights into:

  • The Perils of Plastic Pollution: An in-depth examination of how plastics have become a global crisis, affecting marine life and human health.
  • Plastics in Everyday Life: A closer look at the prevalence of plastics in daily routines and its long-term implications.
  • Climate Change Connection: Understanding the intricate link between plastic production, usage, and global warming.
  • Chemical Pollution Explained: Unraveling the complexities of chemical additives in plastics and their environmental impact.
  • Actionable Strategies: Practical advice on how individuals and workplaces can adopt the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) to mitigate the effects of plastic pollution.

Why Participate?

This training is more than just an educational course; it's a call to action. It aims to transform how we think about and engage with plastics, prompting a shift towards more responsible consumption and waste management practices. For professionals looking to integrate sustainable practices into their workplaces, this course offers invaluable insights and strategies. It's also a fantastic opportunity for anyone passionate about environmental conservation to make tangible changes in their community and beyond.

Join the Movement

As we stand at a pivotal moment in our environmental journey, the "Green Skills Training - Plastic Pollution" course represents a significant step towards a sustainable future. By equipping individuals with the knowledge and skills to tackle plastic pollution, we can collectively drive change and foster a healthier planet for generations to come.

For those interested in making a difference, we encourage you to register for the course by emailing memberlearningscotland@unison.co.uk. Together, we can combat plastic pollution and pave the way for a greener, cleaner world.