The Victorian parliament passed the Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Bill 2015 on 8 October 2015. The Bill enshrines nurse-to-patient and midwife-to-patient ratios in legislation. Victoria is the first Australian jurisdiction to initiate such legislation. The Bill permanently quarantines the ratios of nurses and midwives from industrial relations disputes.

Victoria claims it will now have the most comprehensive nursing and midwifery staffing legislation anywhere in the world.

At the second reading speech of the Legislative Council, among other things, it was said the bill:

  • sets out the current numeric nurse-to-patient and midwife-to-patient ratios that are currently in place in Victoria by setting specific requirements for the minimum number of nurses or midwives for a set number of patients. These provisions vary across different hospitals, different types of wards and different shifts, and
  • introduces a compliance and enforcement regime that includes specific direction powers for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure health services' compliance with the ratios. These powers can be utilised by the secretary either pre-emptively or following a declaration of a court. For serious and wilful breaches of the ratios or a ratio variation, the Magistrates Court may, at its discretion, impose a maximum penalty of just over $9,000.

The Bill is said to be based on evidence from Australia and internationally which confirms that increased nursing care for patients reduces the risk of that patient having an unintended complication or event. Evidence of this kind is behind hospital accreditation schemes such as ‘Magnet status’, which is awarded by the American Nurses' Credentialing Center to hospitals that satisfy a set of criteria designed to measure the strength and quality of their nursing.