The government will develop a nurse-to-patient ratio framework with the nurses' union, but has stopped short of committing to implementing ratios.
Nurses have been lobbying the government for years to consider nurse-to-patient ratios, including in the lead up to the 2016 Territory election.
Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris has denied the announcement is directly related with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation's support of her independent review of ACT Health.
While doctors' groups, including the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Salaried Medical Officers' Federation, have called for a more transparent and public inquiry, the nurses' federation has supported the minister's alternative review.
Ms Fitzharris signed a memorandum of understanding with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation to develop a ratios framework in August, but it was only publicly announced on Friday.
The memorandum stops short of committing to implementing ratios, instead stating that the ratios framework developed through the process will be "genuinely considered" by both parties.
The federation's ACT branch secretary Matthew Daniel said it could lead to the biggest reform in nursing and midwifery in the ACT in more than a decade.
"Many patients and consumers are surprised to hear that the ACT public health care system does not have mandated nurse-to-patient ratios," he said.
"However, the understanding between [the federation] and government means that the development of the framework is expected to be completed within 12 months, and, where agreed, implemented shortly after.
"[Federation] members should be proud of their efforts in campaigning for a workload management system that will ensure safe patient care for the ACT community."
Mr Daniel said the current system of nursing hours per patient day was cumbersome, poorly understood and unclear.
“I’m confident through this process we’ll be able to show the government [ratios] are really important,” he said.
“All manners of clinical complications can occur when you don’t have the right staffing levels.
"This is good news for our members and good news for patients, mothers and babies in Canberra."
Ms Fitzharris said the understanding would allow a 12-month structured process to help inform a new workplace model that was "best practice".
Through the development of the framework, ACT Health will review and evaluate existing nursing hours per patient day - the non-mandated current alternative to ratios - and assess workload models, including ratio models, from other jurisdictions.
“The ACT government is absolutely committed to providing the best health care possible to our community,” Ms Fitzharris said.
“To do this, we need to ensure we are looking after the people working within our hospitals and health services, as well as our patients.
“Ratios are one of a number of mechanisms that factor in the acuity and workload of specific clinical areas to ensure appropriate staffing levels, with patient safety and quality of care at the core of this work.
“To progress this work as a priority, a technical review group between ACT Health and the [federation] is planned to be established as part of the [understanding]."
She said the review group will be jointly chaired and focus on determining an appropriate methodology and process to ensure safe patient care is maintained.