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2021 – a year of challenge and hope for 2022

Dr Denise Chaffer 24 Dec 2021 RCN President

RCN President Dr Denise Chaffer reflects on the last year and considers what 2022 may bring.

A personal highlight from the past 12 months has been the opportunity to meet many of you and represent the RCN at external events. I have met many more of you via our virtual platforms and had the opportunity to speak at some of the RCN autumn learning events and have also connected with a number of members across the four countries. I recently had the great pleasure of meeting RCN members at the RCN Northern Ireland board in person, which felt such a rare treat in today’s climate. Unfortunately, it was not possible due to the pandemic restrictions to meet with members in their clinical settings on this occasion. Both Tracey (Vice President) and I as your President, are hoping to be able to connect with more of you in 2022 across the UK, whenever we possibly can.


One thing which is certain is that the nursing profession continues to do its best, reaching in and touching the lives of many people. Each one of you, in every single specialty area and role, makes a real difference.


It’s clear that across the UK, a shortage of registered nurses and a high number of workforce vacancies and staff sickness, further compounded by the impact of the pandemic, continue to risk the safety and quality of care that can be provided, which negatively impacts on health outcomes and on the wellbeing of our staff.


In recent months, we have witnessed community nursing under huge pressure with increasing caseloads. There are also our colleagues managing those experiencing mental health crisis, and some nurses dealing with safeguarding concerns for the young, the elderly and the vulnerable.


The work continues of nursing staff in care homes and palliative services, GP surgeries, public health settings, prisons and vaccination centres. Educators, student nurses, researchers, nurse specialists, managers, policy leaders - to name but a few - all play a vital part. Nurses have also continued to support carers and families when they are unable to visit and provide end-of-life care when needed.


Many of our nursing staff are very tired, some suffering the long-term effects of COVID, exhaustion and stress, and some have decided they are no longer able to continue. Very sadly some of our nursing colleagues have lost their lives too and our thoughts are with their families and friends at this time.


The RCN has a range of online resources in place to support you as you work under increasing pressure and please remember that you can contact RCND if you need advice and guidance. Materials to help to support your mental and physical wellbeing and support you in escalating any workplace concerns are available on our website.


Whilst public appreciation for nursing remains very high, sadly this has not translated to a recognition of the true value of nursing the population we serve. We will continue to lobby around the Health and Care Bill which is currently being debated in the House of Lords. This is an opportunity for us to influence the shape of the Bill which will determine the future of health and care services in England.


Our RCN members and reps have campaigned throughout the year to highlight the importance of safe staffing levels and fair pay - something they do in addition to their highly pressured nursing roles and while representing members across the UK. To all our members who acted this year – and to all our RCN reps who give so much to our members - I say a huge thank you.


I am grateful to everyone who has been working hard on plans for the RCN to re-join the International Council of Nurses. Really great progress has been made and this is something I am looking forward to seeing come to fruition during 2022. As a College we are committed to taking our place on that global stage to deliver better health outcomes in the UK and across the world.


The new year does bring the opportunity for hope. Whilst the RCN will continue to campaign for safe staffing and fair pay, I would urge you to take time to focus on your own health and wellbeing.  This is vital for both of us as individuals, as well as essential for the promotion of patient safety. We can take time to show appreciation for each other, explore ways we can better support one another, be kinder, and treat everyone fairly. We will continually promote and celebrate the value and joy of nursing, celebrate best practice and ask the people we care for  and the wider public to stand up for us too. For tomorrow it may be them or their loved ones who need care from nursing staff. 

As the pressures on our health and social care services continue to grow, we cannot afford to lose one single colleague. We need to ensure we are inclusive and supportive. The focus must be on retaining our workforce and ensuring the right conditions, career development and opportunities for progression are in place and accessible for all.

As the shoots of spring in 2022 emerge let us hope that politicians start to listen, the current pressures begin to ease and the huge contribution that nursing brings is truly valued. 2021. There is clear evidence that you were all there when it mattered – in 2022, this must be recognised and properly rewarded.

Dr Denise Chaffer

Dr Denise Chaffer


Denise has been President of the RCN since July 2021 and is currently the Director of Safety and Learning for the NHS Resolution (formally known as NHSLA).

Page last updated - 24/12/2021